When the 'Moon' is in the 'Seventh' House

Some Chinese Buddhist and folk religion believers celebrate Ghost Festival, which occurs on the fourteenth night of the seventh month in the year, to pay respects to the dead in a fashion similar to Mexico's Day of the Dead holiday. Offerings are made to the dead on that date, a time when their ghosts are believed to roam the earth. In a way, that means Seventh Moon, the creepy Ghost House Underground flick from The Blair Witch Project director Ed Sanchez, is rooted in truth -- well, to some extent. If red flags are raised at the mention of Blair Witch and shaky camera movement, then you might want to dodge this light-on-gore spectral suspense; however, if thrills surrounded by desperate, bickering human interaction give you goosebumps -- and mild Kwaidan-esque eeriness appeals to you -- then Seventh Moon might offer a moody surprise, albeit an oft-played and slightly bothersome one.

Though it's not the same sort of found footage that's recently become popular with [REC], Cloverfield, and, of course, The Blair Witch Project, the way that we eavesdrop on newlyweds Melissa (Amy Smart, Varsity Blues) and Yul (Tim Chiou) during their Chinese honeymoon feels as close to it without using the gimmick. They're an amorous couple, full of joyful banter and all that other obnoxious crap you see from most honeymoons as they're whirling around the lavish Ghost Festival in the streets. With their travel guide Ping (Dennis Chan) carting them around, sober or not, they're living it up as much as possible until they meet Yul's family. It sounds kind of boring, but so does a late-night interview session at a fire station or a guy's going-away party to Japan.

We've got to plow through a long stretch of ebb-and-flow conversations between the married couple to get to any of the supernatural goodness, which starts to really grind on the nerves as Ping drives them further out in the country -- edging closer and closer to the night's darkness. Amy Smart and Tim Chiou are fine as the focal protagonists and carry the dialogue well enough for a low-brow horror flick, but their chemistry and banter isn't substantial enough to hold our interest by itself. It paints a picture of their characters for us as they approach the point of "interest", and we couldn't be happier for them to get out of the car. Similar to the dialogue in Blair Witch leading up to the stick figures, they're only a bit more maddening and less natural -- which is a shame for Amy Smart, since her efforts in suspense flicks like The Butterfly Effect are rather good.

Along the way, the couple talks to the guide about his beliefs in the mystical recesses of Chinese folklore, which sets us up for Seventh Moon's eerie second and third acts. At the point when we reach a central courtyard in a small-ish cluster of houses with an "offering" splayed out in the center, Sanchez's film starts to slowly justify all the time spent crammed in the car. It taps more into our curiosity than a true sense of dread, intriguing us to piece together clues in our mind. There are certainly a few chilling surface-level moments, like Yul's translation of what the townspeople are yelling from the safety of their homes as they walk closer to the offering point.

Curiosity remains the driving force in Seventh Moon, even when it drenches us in formulaic, cat-and-mouse supernatural terror and discombobulates us relentlessly with shaky-cam photography. The drive behind our cravings to discover more about the ghosts hounding Yul and Melissa makes up for the lack of either realism or originality in their scramble away from them. But that's assuming the audience actually cares one iota about the Buddhist elements swirling around it, which might be understandably less intriguing to those not as easily tantalized by the understated and creepy flecks of real-world mystics -- especially when they're handled in this fashion. Even without that investment, it's possible just to indulge in the eerie story built around the effectively-constructed makeup work for the ghosts.

Director Sanchez showcases his familiar Blair Witch style in mixing heightened human angst between our focal couple with their growing dread, which creates a satisfyingly curious bundle of nerves that buzzes all the way up until a bizarre yet unrewarding climax. Ultimately, we're left understanding what happened with the Chinese ghosts and why it all happened, yet there's a sense of underlying comprehension that escapes our grasp. Maybe it's the waning care that we share for the leads that causes this slight annoyance, or maybe it lies in the only moderately-elaborated mystics present in the storyline; however, Seventh Moon still left me partly satisfied with its blend of tension and reflexive influences, bleakly constructed into a supernatural chiller.


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