The Temple (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Upon first glance all the ingredients are there to make a curious horror film: a solemn-looking protagonist with a mysterious past, a trip to a foreign country, coming across a creepy journal in a mom-and-pop shop, locals warning that the contents scribed on the pages is bad news so never pursue it, urban legends involving monks and missing children… Yet these do not come together in a way that is suspenseful, sensical, or satisfying. Instead, it feels like were are stuck on this trip to Japan with three bland Americans—best friends Kate (Natalia Warner) and Chris (Logan Huffman) along with James (Brandon Sklenar), Kate’s boyfriend who also happens to be a womanizer—with nothing interesting to do or say throughout the picture’s interminable eighty-minute running time. It isn’t because the performers share no chemistry nor is it due to the unconvincing acting. The work suffers from a basic screenplay problem: Instead of building upon the details of its mythos, which should function as the connective tissue between major plot points, it spends far too much time putting the characters in tired situations: getting lost in the woods, getting lost in an abandoned mine, getting lost in their emotions as to how they really feel toward one another. (Chris kinda-sorta likes Kate but she’s unavailable; James claims that Chris is not what he expected—whatever that means; Chris admits he likes James but we suspect baloney—or is it?) It feels too much like a soap opera. And get this: The movie treats its third-act “twist” as if it were an eye-opening revelation. Cue the “Gotcha!” flashbacks. In reality, it isn’t a twist at all—unless you’ve been born in a cave, lived there your entire life, and not seen a single horror movie.