Sunday, 17 December 2017

Temple (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: American tourists Christopher (Logan Huffman), James (Brandon Tyler Sklenar) and Kate (Natalia Warner) look for a Japanese temple that is reputed to be haunted. They find it. It is haunted. The audience is given zero reasons to care. I feel asleep in the middle of writing this plot synopsis because that’s how underwhelming this all is. Spoilers.

Sure hope you like incredibly thin and uninteresting characters because that’s all we end up getting here. Christopher’s only consistent trait is that he can understand Japanese. That’s it. Huffman does okay with what he’s given, but he doesn’t exactly elevate it into something worth watching. For our main character, that is not a good sign. James has infidelity as his single trait, and Sklenar plays him as someone the audience wants to see get what’s coming to him. In regards to horror movie leads, as in the type that we’re clearly not meant to care for, he’s adequate but he can’t even reach the point of making us care enough to see him gone. We just don’t care full stop, so the few shreds of hatefulness we get from him feel like blindly grabbing for something, anything, to keep the audience’s attention.
But hey, at least Christopher and James have at least one trait to be identified with; Kate doesn’t even get that much. Rather than existing as a sentient person in her own right, Warner’s only role here is to react to what’s going on around her, and even that is apparently too much to ask. The closest thing she has to a connection to the others is through an aborted subplot involving what I guess is a love triangle between the three mains, something that gets brought up in one scene and never factors into anything ever again.

Director Michael Barrett, this being his directorial debut, is the latest in a long line of cinematographers looking to take charge of their own films. Of course, his experience as a DOP is largely in the realms of comedy, having worked closely with Seth MacFarlane on his feature-length productions as well as doing several Happy Madison films. That closer connection to comedy than horror is quite evident in the fact that barely anything we are shown get much of any reaction from the audience, let alone fear. Not even through jump scares, of which there is a surprising lack of. Given how much modern horror is ravaged by this, it would be refreshing to see its absence here, except it isn’t even replaced by anything useful. We spent half the film just watching our leads fart around the streets of Tokyo, and then the other half watching them fart around in the woods and some caves. Riveting.

Then again, Michael isn’t working with the most promising script in the first place… and it’s here where things somehow get even worse. This film is written by Simon Barrett, frequent collaborator with director Adam Wingard and the screenwriter behind The Guest and Blair Witch. Knowing how wonky Wingard’s contribution this year turned out, it’s depressingly fitting that Barrett took a fall here as well. After seeing Blair Witch, which featured quite a bit of inspiration from the annals of Japanese horror, it is maddening how plain this film’s writing is. Throughout the first half, we are told over and over again that there is something spooky going on at the titular temple and that our leads shouldn’t go near it. And yet they go anyway, because if they did the sensible thing and actually pay attention to what the locals are saying, we wouldn’t have a movie.
It’s a subset of the Ugly American Travelogue, similar to Snatched from earlier this year, in that this also involves American tourists finding danger abroad. Except here, rather than the locals being the enemy on their own, the leads become their own enemy in how they keep hearing that there’s something wrong with the temple, even talking to someone who barely made it back from there, and just going “Eh, what do they know? Let's go anyway.”
Besides giving us the clearest possible idea that people are going to die, with the wraparound interview cutting any tension dead through identifying who the only survivor will be, this film’s approach to telling us rather than showing us reminds me a lot of another horror film: The Forest. Like The Forest, this focuses far more on the writing and dialogue delivering the atmosphere rather than the visuals. It also ends up failing at scares for the exact same reason, since if you’re going to treat the contents of the story like a book being read to the audience, why not just make this a friggin’ novel and save us all the trouble? Excluding the opening and ending credits, this thing clocks in at barely 70 minutes long; that’s not a whole lot of space to make an impression and not a whole lot of time to waste.
And yet, more than anything resembling anger, all this leaves me with is a profound sense of boredom. Hell, the reason why this keeps reminding me of other movies is likely because this film barely even exists in its own right, only existing in proximity to better films. Yes, I just implied that Snatched is a better film than this; hopefully by now, you’ll understand just how much nothing is contained here.

All in all, this film should not exist. It has no reason to exist. The acting is incredibly lifeless, the lack of scares makes William Brent Bell look like a cinematic maverick by comparison, and the script keeps explaining why the characters (and by extension the audience) should be scared rather than just sitting down and actually scaring us. Add to that a complete absence of tension, since any plot twists found here are about as obvious as you can get, and you have a film that would insult the entire genre by calling itself “horror”.

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