On paper, Michael Barrett’s Temple sounds promising enough. The film takes three tourists deep into the forests in Japan in search of a mysterious temple, and as expected, the proverbial poop hits the fan. But as far as execution goes, Temple falls apart repeatedly throughout its 78-minute running time, with a story that feels truncated, characters that never really make any sort of impact, and a few “twists” that really aren’t twists at all.
In Temple, we’re introduced to Kate (Natalia Warner), a religious studies student who wants to head out to Japan to take in some Buddhist temples to help prepare for her major. For the trip, she brings along guy friend Chris (Logan Huffman) and boyfriend James (Brandon Tyler Sklenar), and as you can imagine, that causes some friction between the trio during their travels. Kate and her boys come across an old book that features a hidden temple (that may or may not be the site of countless deaths, but since this is a horror movie, I’m sure you can connect those dots) that they decide they need to find; but once they arrive, the travelers get far more than they bargained for, which means not everyone is going to survive.
Here’s the thing: I’m a pretty patient viewer. Really, I am. I’m rather forgiving as a “critic” (not necessarily a label I personally enjoy, but one that does get bandied about when it comes to discussing my profession) and will always do my best to find the good in any movie I watch. And with Temple, there’s just sadly not a lot of really good stuff going on. Sure, there are some solid aspects to the film, including some beautiful cinematography from DP Cory Geryak that captures the dizzying brilliance of the Japanese cityscapes, and he also effectively immerses us in the lush greenery of the remote countryside villages.
There are also some solid ideas set up in writer Simon Barrett’s script for Temple, like utilizing the imagery of foxes for this story, since those creatures hold a special place in Japanese culture (look up “Kitsune” if you’re into that sort of thing), but none of it is ever really fleshed out to any satisfactory degree, making the film something of a shallow viewing experience. The same could be said for the characters—it’s so hard to even care for them when we’re barely given enough to care about as audience members. Instead of taking some risks, Temple goes for the (sort of) love triangle angle aspect you’d expect to see when three attractive 20-somethings go on vacation together, but the weird thing about it all is that, instead of fully committing to this idea, the story weirdly backs off and it quickly becomes an afterthought.
And that’s pretty much what keeps happening to other aspects of Temple, too; ideas and themes are introduced, but there’s no in-depth exploration of any of it. I only wish director Barrett (no relation to the film’s writer, Simon, by the way) had given us at least 10 minutes more of a movie, because that additional time would have really benefitted some of the more interesting aspects of this story that ultimately get glossed over (and that includes the characters, too). What we get with Temple now just feels like an incomplete movie, which is a bummer, because it starts off so promising in the beginning.
Movie Score: 2/5