Fans of giant monster movies kind of take for granted that when in between the parts of the movie where the toothy, slimy, murderous creature is doing what it does, the parts of the movie with people are going to be dull as dirt and hard to watch. That's been the way since the original Godzilla, right?
Well, not so much. Going back to the Japanese cut of Godzilla or even the grandaddy of them all, King Kong, interspersed with all of the monster on (wo)man violence were compelling human stories of greed, love, and anxiety. Similarly, look at Joon-ho Bong 2006 monsterpiece (let me have this) The Host, you've got all of these funny, sweet family dynamics among a dysfunctional clan in South Korea that all play out in and around an attack by a scaly, carnivorous creature. Each of those movies had a purpose and their monsters thematic resonance.
What I'm saying is that we should expect more than the slight characterization and low-level thrills of writer-director Ji-hun Kim's Sector 7 which makes it DVD and 3D Blu-ray release this week from Shout! Factory. This South Korean creature feature set on an oil rig had the potential to create some chills above and beneath the sea but sloppy storytelling, shoddy effects, grating characters, and a jarring, tacked-on political message at the end pretty much sink this new release.
Sector 7, we're helpfully informed via text at the end of the movie, is a real place, a joint development area south of Jeju island which experts say holds up to 100 million barrels of oil. Flashing back to an earlier expedition two decades ago in the area, one diver attempts to fix the drill before coming to a mysterious end after encountering cute little bioluminescent sea creatures. Jump forward to present day, where the latest crew to brace Sector 7 have come up empty with any oil but encounter those luminescent little fish.
Tough-as-nails crew member Hae-Joon (Ha Ji-Won) doesn't want to leave—she has a secret reason for wanting to keep drilling in that area that may be obvious to anyone who watched the prologue. When one of her father's former colleges, Ahn Jung-Man (Sung-Ki Anh) comes aboard to help the remaining skeleton crew close up shop, they make an unexpected oil discovery which leads (I think) to a monster being unleashed upon the crew.
The creature itself is a slimy, tentacled mess of teeth and ooze. It's highly agile, capable of climbing, leaping, and squeezing itself into the tightest spots (its size seems variable depending on the scene and at one point I was convinced there were multiple monsters on board), and it's nearly invulnerable (except for when it's very, very vulnerable and for whatever reason plays possum). It might also be highly intelligent given that it (maybe) sets up a nest that disables all power and communications for the ship.
By the movie's end, the crew will have faced the monster, some of them will live, most of them will die, and we'll learn its ridiculous origin predicated on characters who should know better being completely stupid (and in one case, a comically craven coward).
By the end of the movie, we're left with more nagging questions than concrete answers: why would someone make a creature that big given the stated purpose of its creation? Why do it on an isolated oil rig without telling anyone? Why are there dirt bikes on an oil rig?
The characters provide neither help nor insight here. Hae-Joon is hard to stomach, even though she is probably the most competent character among the lot. A dedicated oil worker, she bristles at the idea of giving up on the site, but her protestations often come off as petulant, and her constant hassling of the vessel's current captain (Hwang In-Hyuk) just feels like constant, whiny sniping. None of the rest of the crew fares any better; this is one of those Korean releases that can't quite figure out the mix between comedy and horror-thriller rhythms. Even in death, a couple of the crewmen act like buffoons and if the movie doesn't care if they die, why should we?
Most problematic of all is the monster which seems to exist under no discernible rules. Is it angry? Fearless? Smart? Why is it attacking the crew instead of going after prey in the sea that might have fewer guns? There are a couple of attempts to set it on fire that don't work (likewise bullets) until one attempt does. The unnamed monster simply ping pongs around the ship, much like the plot does until someone dies.
There's not really anything here to recommend Sector 7, unless you want to see a strange plea at then end of the movie to develop that titular area and evade a political standoff with Japan in 2028. But there, I just told you that part and you don't have to see Sector 7, because otherwise all you're left with is a bad monster, an uninteresting crew, and a terrible script.
Audio and Video
This is one of the few times I've had a complaint about a Shout! Factory Blu-ray release. They're typically responsible for top-notch titles using some of the best elements. Maybe it was the source material, maybe it wasn't but Sector 7 frequently looked somehow over-corrected, the image sharp and in some cases jagged. The 3D doesn't help, either. While there are no artifacts or anything like that in the picture, elements look cheaply composited, visual elements laid on top of one another and recolored to suit.
Again, I'm not sure this is Shout! Factory's fault given that the movie was shot mostly on green screen and the attempts to blend all of the original elements may have resulted in this ugly mess.
There's a making-of doc and a couple of featurettes including an interview with the lead actress. Theses are all pretty short and painless.
Sector 7 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.