There’s a lot of BS floating around just now regarding the writing credit on Michael Barrett‘s directorial debut Temple. If you’re to believe the posters, Temple is the latest potentially lucrative film from the mind of Simon Barrett, the writer behind The Guest, You’re Next, and last year’s surprise Blair Witch sequel.
In actual fact, Barrett has distanced himself from the project, penning an open letter which reveals he wrote a script in 2011, was paid half the amount promised, and never heard about it again, except to know it had been rewritten. He has had no contact with the film’s current crew, and after a six year wait, it looks an awful lot like someone is trying to cash in on Barrett’s popularity and success, particularly that Blair Witch credit. Here’s why.
The Temple is a relatively straight-forward found footage film. Kate (Natalia Warner) travels to Tokyo with her friend Christopher (Logan Huffman) to visit her boyfriend James (Brandon Sklenar). Whilst travelling, the trio come across the story of a haunted temple in the mountains and decide to check it out as tensions start to rise.
What starts as a refreshingly involving time-of-your-life backpacking adventure spirals into Blair Witch territory. The screaming, the splitting up, wild chases through dark woods shot by shaky handheld cameras, it’s all a bit reductive, especially in the face of Barrett’s Blair Witch treatment.
The irritating thing is that convoluted flashback structure aside, Temple isn’t bad at all. For the most part, its carefully done and packs some surprising punches. Barratt, an accomplished cinematographer, shoots the enticing locations of this journey with great energy. Cinematographer Cory Geryak (Christopher Nolan’s lighting technician) brings depth to the project and a host of superb shadow manipulation moments. Much of the film is simply rendered, like its covered in an Instagram filter, but when it counts, the film flips tone and maroons its characters in a much darker world.
Even in the film’s disappointingly typical final act, there are some hauntingly good ideas. Though you might not care for the eventual muddle, it pulls off some stark scary images. For example, the silhouette of the temple guardian; a skinny woman’s body with two independently vicious dog heads, is a shock. Nowadays we’re too used to the tall thin emaciated monster (usually played by Javier Botet), but this one is pretty terrifying.
The character work builds up and sort of fizzles out with that last scare-ride. These could be any ignorant travellers, their experiences generic, the story could be set anywhere in the end, with different mythology. I wasn’t mad for Johannes Roberts‘, similarly appropriating, The Other Side of the Door, but even that film had a correlation between its horror and characters. Whether or not Temple is written by Barratt almost doesn’t matter, it’s a well-enough made film to check out but some stupid decisions in the final act reduce it to a mediocre experience.
As a debut for Michael Barrett, this is an impressively involving and nicely shot film which hold a firm grasp on itself until giving in to genre trope.
Scott Clark | [rating=3]
Horror, History |USA, 2017 | 15 | 4th September 2017 (UK) | Thunderbird Releasing | Dir.Michael Barrett | Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida, Logan Huffman, Eric Bassett, Neal Edelstein, Shinya Egawa, Mike Macari