Never attempt to americanise Japanese horror flicks. Temple – movie review

I must confess I’m not a big fan of Asian horror films, with a few standout exceptions.

Unfortunately, I don’t like their pacing and acting. I guess mostly I can’t understand Asian culture in this type of movies. Therefore, I was quite intrigued when I heard about Temple, a Japanese supernatural horror written and directed by American filmmakers.

I thought it would have been a combination between Asian gore and violence and American characters and storytelling. Well, I was terribly wrong.

Temple tells the story of three Yankee college students who go on holiday in Japan. The plot is told in retrospect by one of the guys who has been hospitalised after something horrendous happened to him and his friends.

Temple 1Our three tourists are, in fact, looking for less mainstream Japanese environment and attractions. Thus, they come across an old journal which revolves around a cursed temple in the mountains and, obviously, they decide to pay it a visit.

Despite an interesting premise – exploration of hidden Japan, isolation in an ancient temple, cultural differences between countries – this film falls flat in every regard.

Mainly, everything is extremely cliché and predictable and Temple turns into an American film located in Japan, as opposed to the cross-cultured, anxiety-inducing movie it could have been.

The screenplay by Simon Barrett is paper-thin and the execution orchestrated by his brother/director Michael is poor and lacking creativity.

Temple is an hour long build-up – only interrupted by two crowd-pleasing jump-scares – that leads up to 15 minutes in which something actually happens.

However, said final beat is overly confusing and bloated that nothing makes sense at the end. In terms of proper ending, Temple has four (!!) different conclusions, all of them put in the movie as if the director didn’t know which one to go for.

Perhaps, ten years down the line, somebody will come up with a director’s cut of Temple, providing us with a definite finale. Not that it matters anyway, because this flick is awful.

Temple 3.jpgBesides plot and direction, this movie features formulaic, one dimensional characters; terrible CGI (who had the ‘brilliant’ idea to utilise computer generated special effects in a low-budget, limited theatrical release horror flick?); horrendous acting; lack of scares and tension.

In my opinion, the only redeeming quality consists of the production values, particularly the cinematography that looks nice.

‘To each their own’ is an overly used saying in regards to cinema, and most of the time I believe you can’t deny the greatness of a film (or its awfulness, in the opposite case), even though it might not be your cup of tea.

However, this saying has its right to be when it comes to Asian horror films. Although I usually don’t get the hype for them, I now believe they should remain what they are and caution should be taken when attempting to mix them with American stereotypes and standards. Otherwise you would end up dealing with films like Temple.

For instance, The Grudge (2004) and Shutter (2008) are good examples of Asian horrors translated for Western audiences and combining elements of two different cultures – although I prefer their original, Asian versions.

Temple 2.jpgThey succeeded because they respected the source material and added Western elements to it without being invasive. In the case of Temple, instead, the story and its characters are dumbed down for Western viewers. As a result, both Asian and American/European audiences would dismiss it as rubbish!

Needless to say, don’t watch Temple: it’s 78 minutes of your life nobody will give you back. Cheers!

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The hysteria behind her eyes. HEX – novel review

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are having a face-to-face on the national television: 2012 election for the White House is approaching and American people’s major concerns revolve around politics, economy, Obama care…

In Black Spring, a few miles down the road from New York, alongside the Hudson, Tyler Grant – son of Steve and Jocelyn – is making his way on YouTube as a vlogger. Not one of those who show off their uninteresting lives 24/7, though. He is a journalist-in-the-making, who wants to make the word a better place through his investigations and sharp, unapologetic statements filled with young-adult idealism.

However, Tyler has little interest toward the American election, since his main focus is “bringing Black Spring out of the Dark Ages” and showing that Katherine van Wyler, the Black Rock Witch with sewn-shut eyes and mouth who’s been haunting the town since the 17th century, cannot make the town folks live like barbarian any longer.

The young idealist must act in the dark, away from the indiscrete eyes of Black Spring committee and HEX – the security squad that follows ancient laws and applies corporal punishments for those who don’t obey to them, no matter how the rest of America is civilised and advanced.

Nonetheless, the dangers for Tyler Grant also come from some of his friends who took the concept of “opening the eyes of the town” way too far, deciding the set up a private, gruesome and cruel revenge against the Black Rock Witch.

The consequences of their actions will be deadly lethal not just for them, but for the entire citizenry of Black Spring.

HEX (2016) is the brilliant English debut of Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who wrote a ‘primitive version’ of the book back in 2013, for the Dutch audience.

His new version of the story, set in the United States – within a very different society – perfectly captures the American spirit in its bright spots and shadows.

HEX featureThis book succeeds on many levels, primarily in terms of character development. HEX tells the story of an entire community, giving all the main characters compelling motivations and strong personalities. When you read the book, you feel part of Black Spring and there’s nothing more refreshing than being dragged and immersed into a story like this.

Black Spring is, itself, a major character and massive source of horror. Although Katherine is a constant, dreadful presence in the book – the Judgment Day will come when she’ll open her eyes, rumours in town say – the citizens are catalyst of terror and hideous actions.

Thus, the story is interesting because, besides Heuvelt’s enormous writing skills, everything is blurry and the boundaries of good and evil merge often, as it happens in human nature.

In perfect Stephen King’s style, the author utilises a paranormal entity as Katherine to describe the every-day-horror that lies underneath the surface of modern societies.

That’s the most striking part of the story and moral of HEX, in my opinion. This book enhances the consequences of fear and mass hysteria: so that Katherine could as well be a symbol for everything that scares a community to the point it loses humanity and brotherhood values.

Katherine is the object of a propaganda that turns civilised people in bloodthirsty barbarians who are apt to flog teenagers who disobeyed anachronistic codes and offer human sacrifices.

As per issues with the novel, I believe there’s one storyline which did not need to be there. The Delarosa are a recently married couple who move to Black Spring and witness the appearance of Katherine: they are utilised by the author as a device to carry the story along and insert a long expository dialogue which gives the witch a backstory that could have been provided in a much subtler way throughout the pages.

Yet, HEX being a horror novel, the scary beats – those that would be translated to jump-scares in a film – are procrastinated by the insertion of descriptive moments that only make the tension shy away.

Also, the ending (the last few pages) is quite confusing and left open to interpretation. Although I don’t usually despise this technique and the message is still delivered clearly, many storylines are left hanging and that may cause a bit of disappointment.

Nevertheless, HEX is one of the best horror/mystery novels I have read in years. Suitable for any kind of reader (+16, I’d say), Heuvelt’s book is a breath of fresh air for the genre and I’m looking forward to reading his next work.

Title: HEX
Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Publisher: Hodder&Stoughton
Year: 2016
Pages: 384
Price: £8,99
Vote: 3,5/5