Temple Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Thunderbird Releasing
Directed by Michael Barrett
Written by Simon Barrett
2017, 78 minutes, Rated 15
DVD released on 4th September 2017
Logan Huffman as Christopher
Brandon Sklenar as James
Natalia Warner as Kate
Naoto Takenaka as Ryo
Out on one of the more awkward couples’ holidays of all time, a girl, her dick boyfriend, and a third wheel travel to rural Japan. Hoping to get in some culture and build a killer Instagram album (I’m guessing the word #wanderlust is in for some abuse), the trio visit an ancient temple in a remote jungle. Attacked by the resident spirits, the kids soon begin to wish they’d stuck with the mainstream tourist hotspots.
Written by the usually very good Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S) and directed by first-timer Michael Barrett (possibly related, probably written as a favour if so), Temple is not a great showcase for either's talent. This is the weakest story the writer has ever concocted, and the flat, workmanlike direction does it no favours. It’s a rare case where found footage might have even worked better, livening up what is essentially just three dullards on holiday… until something inevitably goes wrong.
Still, the Japanese locales presented here provide some variation, and the material is handled with a touch more sensitivity than it was in the controversial The Forest. Whether the story and scares are better is a matter for debate (they aren’t) but it feels less grotesque and exploitative than it being set in a real-life suicide forest. To continue with the faint praise, the actors all do well, and the friendship between Kate and Christopher is a genuinely touching one (until suddenly it isn’t). Generic douchebag boyfriend James pushes the threesome into familiar, predictable territory, but the characters and characterisation isn’t one of the film’s major problems.
No, that would be its complete lack of personality. Its ghost story is barely functional, mostly taking place in the incomprehensible dark, hardly related to the characters, story or the scenes that bookend it. Travelling to Japan to make your horror film is fine, but you could at least make sure you’re up to the standard of your setting. Japan being responsible for some of the greatest supernatural horror films of all time, one is left wondering the point of a film like Temple… which really isn’t. The Ju-On esque-kid only makes the comparison worse. Temple is a horror film for viewers who don’t like subtitles, and probably haven’t even seen the American versions of The Ring and The Grudge. Between this and the Death Note remake, 2017 is a bad time for relations between Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett and Japanese cinema. Frankly, one would be better off with the very similar Thai-American spooker Ghost House, and that one isn’t even very good either.
Temple does nobody any favours. For its director, it’s a clichéd bore, not exactly crapping the bed, but never once rising above the level of basic competence. Hours later, I had already forgotten the majority of its back half. Its poor writer fares even worse – this unremarkable, humourless dud making one of our hottest, sharpest horror screenwriters look almost useless without Adam Wingard around to liven up his work. I’m positive that’s not the case, but Temple is a stunning misstep. In fact, the reveal of Simon Barrett as the writer left me far more shocked than any single twist or turn presented in the film itself.