STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
• Commentary w/ dir. Eduardo Sanchez and Amy Smart
• Behind-the-scenes featurettes
• Promotional materials

The Pitch

“It’s Hostel meets The Blair Witch Project!”

The Humans

Amy Smart (Crank), Tim Chiou (various TV appearances)

The Nutshell

A pair of newlyweds, Melissa (Smart) and Yul (Chiou), are enjoying their honeymoon in China during a festival of the dead when their friendly little tour guide abandons them in the wilderness. They find a village, but no one there wants to help them, or will even look at them through barred doors and windows. Then the slaughtering begins, thanks to these guys:

I’ve just gotten a great idea. One word: Slaughtergrams.
My business plan is kinda short. And sticky.

The Lowdown

I’m kind of fascinated by the role of xenophobia in horror. Particularly in American horror, we paint ourselves as ignorant of the cultures and traditions of other lands, and thus susceptible to fall prey to their more, uh, indelicate practices. Or, in the case of stories like Hostel, we’re just ignorant and the rest of the world is perfectly happy to punish us for it. It’s not surprising that horror writers find inspiration in the exaggerated beliefs of alien cultures; “the unknown” is what horror is all about. The unknown and the fiercely suspected.

What interests me about Seventh Moon and other American transplant horror stories are the specific ways in which the WASPs are contrasted against the indigenous people. Does the story come out as a cautionary tale warning against disrespect? Are the characters punished just for being unaware? Are they taken advantage of, or do they merely stumble into a nest of terror? And, since I believe no genre has the capacity to make a point so clearly as horror when it wants to, what does it all mean?

Pretty sure it means: Have Babies.

The scenario in Seventh Moon starts out with a bit of a twist on the backpackers-in-a-foreign-country trope. While Melissa is as white as they come, Yul is at least partly Chinese; they’re visiting China not only to celebrate between themselves, but to drop in on some of his relatives and to introduce them to Melissa for the first time. Not that his watered-down blood will help him, though. He is constantly painted as being unaware of the people and traditions — even going so far as to make him largely incompetent about the Chinese part of his family — and, though he tries to speak the language, he really sucks at it.

Melissa, on the other hand, tries to connect with the people, the practices, and the couple’s tour-guide, Mr. Ping. She berates her new husband for his lack of consideration, which prompts a bout of bickering that lasts, in one form or another, for two-thirds of the running time. Melissa is ignorant and eager to learn; Yul is ignorant and closed-off. It’s a nice dichotomy that would have paid off if it were explored in any depth, or if it actually had anything to do with the predicament they soon find themselves in. Mr. Ping doesn’t abandon them because of anything Yul said, or because he doesn’t appreciate Melissa’s earnest attempts to connect.

…and she will go all out to make a connection.

Rather, the plot doesn’t follow from active — or even passive — disrespect for another culture’s tradition. It’s a xeno-oops story. The Americans aren’t being punished by the narrative for their failure to connect with the Chinese. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And while that makes a terrific hook for a narrative, it doesn’t sustain the horror. What’s left to rely on, then, is the relationship between the married couple. What does being submerged in the nightmares of another society do to them, and what does that say about the archetypes they represent?

“Not much” works for me as an answer to both questions. The whole of the development between the characters amounts to a fight and a self-sacrificial apology. The role of scream queen doesn’t go anywhere new in Smart’s hands, and the naive white knight of Yul has no distinction, despite the locale and/or the nature of the terrible traditions. As a comparison, The Descent has more in the way of character work than Seventh Moon does.

Welcome to the Albino Nudist Colony!

To be fair, director Eduardo Sanchez (of Blair Witch fame) spends most of his time indulging in some terrific, kinetic and haunting imagery. The makeup and portrayal of the ghost-monsters is simple, but effective. Many of their appearances rely on suggestion as they keep out of focus, behind objects, or heard instead of seen. I’ve admired Blair Witch for its powers of suggestion, if for nothing else, and Sanchez carries a bit of that aesthetic over here, though with a bit more of a payoff. (Except it’s worth noting that the payoff is kind of ruined by the decision to feature one of the monsters in clear focus on the front of the DVD case.)

It’s not enough for me, though, to carry the whole thing. There’s not enough content here to really place the story in much of a context with other xenophobic horror. Its heavy reliance on simple chase scene mechanics and avoidance of any character growth means that Seventh Moon comments less on the terror of the unknown than does The Wicker Man. Sure, Seventh Moon sinks a compelling hook, but there’s no momentum to carry the story further than it is when it starts.

As a kid who grew up on cow tipping, I’m pretty damn jealous of these guys.

The Package

Eduardo Sanchez and Amy Smart tag-team a fairly engaging commentary track. Smart, especially, seems excited to share and honestly proud of what she contributed. Sanchez is a bit more laconic. Full disclosure, though: I have a crush on Ms. Smart. Sorry, Mr. Sanchez.

A behind-the-scenes featurette covers the production in the usual marketing-level of fluff and detail. Another featurette details the design of and intention for the ghost monsters, while another sheds a little light on the actual Chinese myths that surround the seventh lunar month.

The last thing is a “Ghost House Micro Video,” essentially a set of clips of various Ghost House releases set to the enthusiastic music of various metal bands, whose subgenres I couldn’t even begin to try and classify. Doom? Speed-sludge? Rockabilly bomb blast?

5 out of 10