Eduardo Sanchez, should his name not ring a bell, is 50% of the success behind The Blair Witch Project. Altered, his second full-length feature, proved to be a tremendous flop (and rightfully so), which left him stranded as a failed talent. At the same time it relieved some of the pressure Sanchez must have felt after the success of Blair Witch. Seventh Moon is his third film, and a reassuring poke in the right direction.
Seventh Moon is based on the Chinese tradition of the Hungry Ghost Month, a familiar subject for those who dabble in the realms of Chinese and HK horror films from time to time. It looks like this tradition is catching on in the West, as They Wait (a Canadian film from 2007) based its story on that same tradition. A somewhat remarkable fact, as Western horror films aren't usually very prone to pick up on Asian influences.
Sanchez takes the concept one step further and transports his main characters to mainland China rather than Chinatown. Yul and Melissa are newlyweds celebrating their honeymoon in China, playing the happy tourist in search of Yul's family. When it turns out their guide isn't as friendly as initially assumed, things go from bad to worse very quickly. A rather simply setup for a simple horror film, but complexity is usually not high on the list of expectations for a film like this.
Seventh Moon plays like a typical trip into madness. When the couple is confronted with the first body you know they're in for a pretty scary ride, with things getting a lot worse before they'll get any better again. The film's only perspective is that of the young couple, keeping the audience equally clueless throughout the film.
Sanchez tries to heighten this experience by mimicking handycam camera work, making the audience the third person there. And while the idea is good, the execution is simply too poor. Contrary to what many seem to believe, there's more to it than randomly swinging a camera up and down. While the tempo and editing are all quite nice, the actual camera work is a little disjointed and sometimes fails to capture the action. Sanchez is not able to convey the same level of urgency seen in films like Cloverfield and [Rec], which is a serious issue.
Luckily Sanchez has another trick up his sleeve. The soundtrack and sound design of Seventh Moon is absolutely brilliant. Superbly atmospheric ambient music and eerie sounds paint a picture of the surroundings way more effectively than the images do. Where the images fail to capture the tension, the music jumps in and grabs the audience, spraying a very unnerving and grim atmosphere across the whole film.
Even though the acting is nothing more than decent, it suffices to enjoy the journey of the couple. While they have little to work with, they're not as irritating as most horror fodder. As the film nears the ending the tension is increased and explodes in a terrific finale. I was a little dazed when watching the credits, somewhat fazed out due to the ambient score and slightly surprised by the solid atmosphere captured in the film.
It's a shame that Sanchez couldn't get the camera work right, otherwise Seventh Moon could've been a contender of films like [Rec] and Blair Witch. As it is, Seventh Moon is still a strong film, sporting some good tension, cool creatures and a terrific soundtrack.