Simon Barrett is a pretty big name in the horror world. He has directed for the V/H/S (2012) series and has written modern day classics such as You’re Next (2011) and A Horrible Way to Die (2010)as well as the somewhat more divisive Blair Witch (2016) and Death Note (2017). Seeing his name attached to a smaller project such as TEMPLE is a bit of a shock but with strange allusions to have little to no idea what the project is about, it makes more sense once you sit through this muddled film.
TEMPLE follows a pretty standard format. Three kids follow a mysterious map, in this case of a forest in Japan, and run into some supernatural horror. Christopher, James and Kate are friends that head out into the woods with a camera to stay the night in a supposedly haunted temple. The movie obviously takes a number of cues from the classic The Blair Witch Project (1999). Three teens, two men and a female, are told by a number of locals to stay away from the haunted temple but head out anyway to try and record what is happening.
The film does some strange things. It dances around with POV, waffling between found footage and third person, but mostly only teases the handheld camera effect without making the full commitment.It also inserts an odd and endlessly irritating and obvious love triangle between the three. The entire love subplot seems entirely shoehorned and is ultimately unnecessary except to cause a few points of contention between the two male leads, played by Logan Huffman (Christopher) and Brandon Sklenar (James).
The script takes some fun and bold choices. Although the character archetypes are overplayed, the actual spirits and monsters are a little more fun. Tapping deep into Japanese lore, the viewers are treated to some truly unique attempts at introducing rarely, possible never, attempted beasts of Asian mythology. Although the appearance of these creatures is usually just a flash in the pan, their film has a few creeping horror moments littered throughout. The plot does trip up majorly forcing in a silly “twist” that does little to impact the overall climax and conclusion of the film.
One glowing highlight is the fantastic cinematography from Cory Geryak, who has worked on numerous blockbuster films as a tech, and surely aided by the cinematographic eye of director Michael Barrett, another longtime Hollywood cinematographer. Sweeping and lush landscapes and ethereal blue landscapes manage to make the film more alluring than it really has the right to be.
Ultimately, the best laid plans often go awry. Although the movie is very clearly filled with good intentions, it misses the mark. It can’t quite decide how scary it wants to be, what monsters it wants to use, it can’t even decide which character it wants the female lead to end up with. TEMPLE isn’t offensively bad, it’s only haphazardly boring.
TEMPLE will be in select theaters September 1st from Screen Media Films