Studio: Screen Media
Director: Michael Barrett
Writer: Simon Barrett, Neal Edelstein, Shinya Egawa, Mike Macari
Producer: Mike Macari, Neal Edelstein, Eric Bassett, Shinya Egawa
Stars: Logan Huffman, Natalia Warner, Brandon Tyler Sklenar, Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida
Three American tourists exploring obscure shrines in rural Japan unlock the supernatural evil of a haunted mountain temple.
Often when I review a VOD movie, the stream runs in one window or monitor while I type notes with Microsoft Word in another. Once end credits roll, I usually have anywhere between one and a half to four pages of single-spaced thoughts, plot points, and preliminary paragraphs for the final draft.
By the time “Temple” ended, I had written only two notes totaling three lines. The first was an aside regarding a bilingual character, which remarked, “it’s weird that he is fluent in the language, yet apparently doesn’t know Japanese books are read from right to left.” The second note glibly said, “I’m not sure what the f*ck happened with the ending.” Those two simple sentences speak volumes about how little “Temple” has worth talking about, and how devoid the film is of content capable of inspiring a meaningful reaction.
“Temple’s” timeline traces back to Kate, who travels to Japan to photograph obscure Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples for her religious studies thesis. On Kate’s left arm is her blandly boorish boyfriend James. On her right is Kate’s childhood friend Chris, who happens to speak Japanese and may or may not be harboring a crush on his platonic gal pal.
Outside of the above, the one thing we learn about Chris is that he is recovering from a breakdown suffered earlier in the year when his brother died in a horrific accident. This trivial tidbit can be labeled ‘entirely irrelevant,’ as specifics of Chris’ trauma never come into play even peripherally.
Being a photogenic good girl catches Kate unaware that she is the object of her longtime guy friend’s affection. This in turn means that according to stereotypical screenplay conventions, her actual boyfriend has to be a complete douche, and James does not disappoint. With scintillating dialogue such as, “I gotta take a leak,” or “enjoy the show?” after Chris spies the couple in coitus, James is an insufferable nobody who makes no sense for Kate as written. Additionally, even though James doesn’t trust Chris to be around his girlfriend, he completely trusts Chris to keep his mouth shut when James makes out with another woman while Kate stays in bed recovering from jetlag.
Don’t bother keeping score on this love triangle. It’s one more toy taken out of the box only to sit on the floor without any playful hand touching it again.
Kate, Chris, and James should have sensed they were courting horror when, upon trying to purchase a handwritten book of folklore about a mysterious mountain shrine, the shopkeeper’s eyes bulged before saying the journal was not for sale and booting everyone out of the store. Chris should have taken the second hint when a random man at a bar recognized the temple depicted in the book and warned it is an unlucky place that makes visitors sick. Strike three comes when the trio treks to the village below the shrine to hear local legends of a man who came back from the temple holding his eyeballs in his hands. Chris meets this blind man and learns firsthand how the temple has been haunted ever since a mob murdered a monk suspected of kidnapping children.
Warnings from dusty old tomes, wide-eyed locals, and no-eyed locals successfully ignored in standard scary movie fashion, Kate, Chris, and James are led to the shrine by a ghostly little boy who may be supernatural himself. Once there, everything goes completely haywire and no one is quite sure what is happening. I’m speaking about the filmmaking and the audience respectively, not the setup or its characters.
Were it not for capable cinematography and a rudimentary understanding of basic moviemaking tenets, the bizarrely incongruous conclusion alone might make one think the filmmakers incompetent. Not to take anything away from Cory Geryak’s camerawork, but making rural Japan look good is like shooting koi in a pond, so pretty pictures only earn the movie a minor amount of leeway. I’ll afford everyone the benefit of the doubt by instead assuming they simply ran out of time, money, or interest to take “Temple” all the way across the finish line into any categorization that can be considered ‘quality.’
The film’s last ten minutes is haphazard to the point of appearing constructed entirely from available footage in the editing room, as opposed to a preordained behind-the-scenes plan. Character fates are left in the air, backstories go unexplained, and the final cut to black comes so abruptly, you’ll swear it can’t really be the end, even though you’ll welcome the merciful fact that it is.
Whatever was in mind before cameras rolled is not what “Temple” became. I can’t speak to exactly what was intended, but what it became is a one-dimensional mishmash of “found footage,” flashbacks, police procedural, superstitious hullaballoo, and interpersonal drama that shrivels and dies without sensibly interacting with one another. Unrewarding in nearly every manner imaginable, “Temple” at least has the courtesy to be so negligible, you probably won’t remember experiencing it in the first place.
Review Score: 20