The ‘7 Guardians of the Tomb’ Should Stay Buried

by Warren Cantrell on February 21, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rock Fist Way Down]

A lazy collection of clichés with almost no personality and even less of a reason to exist, 7 Guardians of the Tomb is a movie without a soul. Which is to say that the film is a lifeless, empty vessel, a constructed assembly of parts cobbled together by twelve different producers playing the role of Dr. Movie Frankenstein. From the listless acting, to the nonsensical plot, to the contrived action set-pieces: it’s a clinic on lazy, uninspired filmmaking by-committee.

Ostensibly the story of a rescue mission gone awry, 7 Guardians of the Tomb is really just an excuse to put bored actors through the paces of a puzzle-maze adventure garnished with killer spiders. Buried beneath a series of flashbacks, and then flashbacks within those flashbacks (seriously), there’s a narrative thread about Jia (Bingbing Li), who works at a zoo handling venomous snakes. Jia’s brother works for Mason (Kelsey Grammer), the CEO of a biotech company, and it is this brother’s disappearance on a mission for Mason that brings Jia into the rescue operation that serves as the narrative backbone of the picture.

Once Jia and Mason get to China to begin this mission, writer/director Kimble Rendall pushes through all the crucial exposition points of the story in about five painful minutes. Jia’s brother went missing several hours away from basecamp, and a GPS signal is their only clue to his whereabouts. At one point, a member of the expedition points towards a monitor displaying approaching storm systems, and for a moment, based on the tone and content of the script to this point, it seems entirely plausible that a sharknado might be inbound.

Some of the most outlandish writing is reserved for token tough guy Jack Ridley (Kellan Lutz), who rides into the movie on the back of a motorcycle like a bad boyfriend about to ask the audience to take their daughter out. Jack is all attitude, beard stubble, vest, and breakaway shades. Jack is rugged, but smart, decisive, yet sensitive: a mix of contradictions that allow him to be everything for everyone at any time depending on the needs of a swiss-cheese script. “Where did you come from?” one dead-meat character asks when Jack strides into the movie out of literally nowhere. This moment is worth pausing for, as it represents maybe the most honest moment in the entire film. Where, indeed?

Kimble Rendall last directed 2012’s surprise hit, Bait, the story of a group of strangers trapped in a flooded supermarket with a mean-as-fuck shark. One would think that mixing the basic components of that story with a classic multi-level maze-monster trope would work like gangbusters with Guardians of the Tomb, yet the opposite is true. Nothing about this stale, paint-by-numbers filmmaking lands, due in large part to the poor character work, jilted pacing (seriously, not to harp on this, but there really are flashbacks within flashbacks), and abysmal acting.

And that’s not even touching on the script.

Nothing about this movie makes any sense. For starters, the basic premise that brings Jia into the story is flawed. Indeed, what use would Jia, a snake expert, be to an expedition threatened by venomous spiders? To be clear, there’s no such thing as a PhD in “venom studies,” so the presence of the movie’s lead is wholly without merit. The “storm” that forces Mason, Jia, and their rescue party underground serves as the engine of the second act, and is hand-waved away in the script as having to do with mining in the area. Yet this reveal does nothing to explain why a meteorological event should resemble a fiery mortar attack from an angry God. The actors do their best to sell the exposition “explaining” all of this away when the movie stops dead in its tracks to give them these opportunities, but it is clear that even seasoned professionals like Grammer are struggling with it all.

Worst of all, there’s the spiders. There’s just no reason for these things to operate the way that they do. Their habit of assembling and threatening only after the heroes have had time to catch their collective breath, figure out the next maze clue, and rush to the one and only visible exit available to them feels like the work of a freshman screenwriter. At times the spiders seem smart, as if controlled by a hive-mind (spiders don’t function in this way, and the script doesn’t give them a reason around this), while at other times they appear to be generically aggressive and mindless.

Were this production a tongue-in-cheek take on the genre, that might be something, yet 7 Guardians of the Tomb takes itself 100% seriously, and never pauses to relish any of this. No one seems to be having any fun, and even when the script does toss in a few humorous one-liners, they feel tacked-on, and recorded in post as an afterthought. The result is a generic, stale, and confusing series of action set-pieces held together by only the most basic tenants of horror/suspense filmmaking (people go down a hole, monsters live there, they run, some die, repeat).

Opening this week in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD, 7 Guardians of the Tomb isn’t worth one second of an audience’s time, even in a so-bad-it’s-good ironic viewing. The picture wants to be a cross between Deep Blue Sea and the creepiest bug bits in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, yet utterly fails in every attempt to mine the best parts of either. Just … no.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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