Temple (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Upon finding a map in an old gift shop, three American tourists trek deep into the jungles of Japan to locate an ancient temple. Little do they know it’s been haunted for the past 40 years.

REVIEW: Learning the hard way the vast difference between deftly directing a feature and merely lighting and lensing one is Michael Barrett, longtime DP who helmed the new Japan-set haunter TEMPLE due in select theaters September 1st. With equal blame for an equal name, writer Simon Barrett (YOU’RE NEXT, BLAIR WITCH), TEMPLE not only squanders its promissory premise and exotic locale, but at a scant 73 minutes, the whole endeavor feels far too slight, too minor, and too uneventfully lower-case to even constitute a full length film. Worse, it isn’t very scary. Really, TEMPLE would probably be a far better experiment had it been part of a whole, an anthological horror chapter perhaps, where its modicum of value could add to a larger sum. As it is now, TEMPLE amounts to little more than a torpid bore of horror clichés, uninteresting characters and a dissatisfying "twist" conclusion. Worship elsewhere!

We open with the all too familiar montage of newspaper clippings of missing children. Six of them to be exact, each of which mysteriously vanished in 1968 Japan. Cut stateside to Kate (Natalia Warner), an American student intent on studying rural Japanese temples for her master thesis. Headed to Tokyo with her boyfriend James (Brandon Sklenar) and her bereaving best friend Christopher (Logan Huffman), who recently lost a sibling in a horrific car crash, we instantly sense an awkward dynamic. James and Chris don’t get along so well, the former brash and dashing, the latter dour and depressive. Kate is stuck in the middle trying to appease both. While sightseeing upon arrival, the trio enters a small gift-shop and stumbles upon a hand-drawn map of an ancient temple. Kate thinks it perfect to include in her studies, so the three set out to find the rural locale and investigate.

To the surprise of no one other than our oblivious leads, the temple turns out to be accursed with malefic spiritual haunting. You can probably connect the dots with the opening news-clippings yourself, even if the movie tries desperately to blindside us with a poorly executed shock-and-awe twist finale. I will say the one thing I really dug about TEMPLE, aside from the setup and excitingly exotic Japanese locations, is the use of an ancient statue of a shape-shifting beast perched in front of the titular temple. The eerie effigy gets re-appropriated in a cool and grisly way, even if it too isn’t all that hair-raising as far as genuine chills go. Thing is, even if it were scarier, because the three leads are so unlikably two-dimensional, I’m not sure the result would be any better. By caring little for the characters, we care little about what happens to them, and therefore the level of terror they experience becomes inconsequential. The shape-shifter included.

But the primary problem with TEMPLE is that it’s yet another example of a laboriously stretched-out feature that should have probably remained a short film. Shot in just 16 days, hardly reaching the 70 minute mark, there is no excuse for having so much dulled inaction dragging the story for such long durations. Had the movie been cut by 25-30 minutes and released as a short film, the result would likely be far more effective. Honestly, coming from Simon Barrett, this feels like a proposed throwaway anthological chapter for a potential V/H/S  or ABCs OF DEATH sequel. If not, perhaps it should have been. There simply isn’t enough heft in terms of plot, story, scares or dramatic conflict to warrant a substantive feature on its own. Things linger in languor for far too long!

In a way, this is almost excusably par for the course for a first-time director in Michael Barrett. But Simon Barrett? Frankly, he has enough bona fide genre credits to hold him to a higher standard than what he’s scripted here in TEMPLE. DEAD BIRDS, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST, BLAIR WITCH…each one of these films, while far from perfect, at least felt fleshed-out enough to be filmed as a competent feature length screenplay. It’s only when you consider Simon’s short-form resume of V/H/S, V/H/S 2 and ABCs OF DEATH that you begin to suspect that TEMPLE must have been conceived asa subset of such from the jump, with the decision to painfully elongate the material being a deeply misguided one. Or, at best, a last ditch effort of desperation. In the end though, no matter the motivation, both Barretts bear blame for what’s essentially a boring, underdone conjuration of worn out J-horror convention. Hate to say it, but the TEMPLE on the side of your head is bound to pound more of an adrenalized pulse!

Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.