Over in the West, there’s something ever-intriguing about the Orient. Different culture, different folklore, and, of course, the allure of exotic cuisine.
Explains the lasting obsession with Yo! Sushi.
Japanese horror has always been a completely different kettle of fish to the slasher fayre that Hollywood has been churning out since the dawn of cinema. There is something uniquely unsettling about the complete unfamiliarity we have with oni and obake, which has led to our love for the works of Hideo Nakata, Takeshi Shimizu and their nightmare-inducing brethren.
In his latest venture, Temple, Simon Barrett, the writer behind modern classic You’re Next and the recent Blair Witch outing, takes us on a folklore-fuelled journey into the darkest reaches of rural Japan.
Temple follows theology student Kate (Natalie Warner – Learning to Breathe, The Double) as she travels to Japan to research a paper on Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. In tow are sleazy boyfriend James (Brandon Sklenar – Hunky Dory, Cornered) and socially awkward photographer friend, Chris (Logan Huffman – V, Final Girl). On arriving in Tokyo, the trio discover a creepy journal in an old junk shop which tells of a lost temple deep in the mountains. Further investigation uncovers the tale of a group of children who went missing in the woods surrounding the temple, rumoured to have been killed by a murderous monk. Despite warning, our intrepid team set off in search of the temple, guided by a peculiar young boy from the village.
Cue a very Blair Witch-esque night of woodland terror as the spirits trapped within the shrine begin to manifest themselves in increasingly terrifying ways.
There’s a lot to like about Temple; Huffman is a likeable protagonist, and there is some wonderful cinematography going on, both within the streets of Tokyo, as well as through the uber-creepy woodland wilds. There are also plenty of little nods to Japanese fairytales and myths, many of which are left unexplained for Western audiences, so one does at times wonder which side of the Pacific this was intended to be a hit, but kudos nonetheless to the writers for pandering to both the Japanese audience and those of us who spent a little too much time immersed in the culture.
This wading into the mythos leads to some genuinely skin-crawling moments, complimented by some effective practical creature effects and a few horribly claustrophobic sequences akin to the equally fun As Above, So Below.
Sadly, the film falls at the final hurdle with an utterly rushed ending, leaving the audience with an “oh… was that it?” rather than any kind of real payoff. This, coupled with a “twist” ending that hits you with full-on obviousness in the first act, and unfortunately, we’re left rather lukewarm.
Overall, Temple is a decent first attempt at directing from seasoned cinematographer Michael Barrett, and a relatively solid calling card for future ventures. Will it be remembered as a genre classic? Probably not. Is it worth a beer and a pizza? Or possibly sake and sushi? Most definitely.
Temple is available on DVD & Blu-Ray from 4th September
Dir: Michael Barrett
Scr: Simon Barrett
Cast: Logan Huffman, Brandon Sklenar, Natalia Warner, Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida
Prd: Eric Bassett, Neal Edelstein, Shinya Egawa, Mike Macari
DOP: Cory Geryak
Music: Edmund Butt
Country: USA, Japan
Run time: 78mins