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LOST SOULS: Film Review

Damn this movie to Hell!

By Steve Biodrowski     October 12, 2000

If you are foolish enough to pay hard earned money to see this movie instead of The Exorcist this weekend, then all I can say is that you'll get what you deserve: a movie so bad that there is almost nothing good to say about it; a boring mess that drowns its feeble storyline in a nauseating wash of pseudo-stylish photography; a Hollywood exercise in ripping off films presumably too old for the target teen audience to recognize the theft. Or let's put it this way: after a half hour, I started looking at my watch wondering when this uneventful, pretentious pabulum would end; after another half hour, I started having flashbacks to Beavis and Butt-Head, to wit: 'This sucks in ways we've never seen stuff suck before.'

Rather than give a point-by-point rundown of all that's wrong with this movie (life's too short, after all), let me try to give you the big picture. First off, the screenplay (by Pierce Gardner, from a story he co-wrote with Betsy Stahl) is one of those by-the-numbers jobs, where everything has that silly kind of movie logic that makes the whole thing predictable. (You can tell who will turn out to be Satanic conspiratorsjust assume those smiling friendly countenances are phony.) Worse, it plods along as if slowly developing a mounting tension of unbearable suspense, when it is really just doing nothing but boring the audience. Finally, it winds up with one of the most anti-climactic endings ever deposited on celluloid. You get up and leave the theatre thinking, 'Is that it?'

These script problems are compounded by the ill-advised visual stylings of Janusz Kaminski, the Oscar-winning cinematographer-turned-director. Kaminski, working with cinematographer Mauro Fiore, shoots the whole thing in a dreary sepia tone that makes the actors' flesh tones match the brownstone buildings everywhere on view, and the result is stultifying. Perhaps Kaminski wanted to shoot the film in black-and-white and the studio objected, so he opted for this compromise; in any case, the result is disastrous. The whole film feels like a prologue; you keep waiting for the film to signal a jump forward to the main action by revealing a little color. (In fact, most of the suspense you're likely to feel is wondering whether you'll ever see some red, or even blue would have been nice.)

This monochromatic color scheme is part of a visual plan that involves MTV style backlighting, with large areas of shadow filling the screen, along with lots of jump cuts for the exorcism scenes. The approach suggests an apparent attempt to target teen viewers who think The Exorcist is old hat and boring, but the result is way off. The film is too boring, too lacking in genuine scares and thrills, to appeal to young, jaded crowds likely to enjoy the gimmicky visuals.

As for the film's theology, don't get me started. The press kit makes one foolish reference to The Exorcist as leading people to think of possession as something straight out of fiction. The implication is that Lost Souls will somehow correct this 'mistake' and show us the real thing, but this film is clearly governed by no serious spiritual questing. It's just an attempt to amalgamate bits and pieces of previous movies (including Rosemary's Baby and The Omen) and pass it off as something profound.

To be fair, there is one great jump scare about two-thirds through the movie (featuring a bigger-than-life-size crucifix), and after that there is one decently handled suspense scene involving an escaped serial killer. But even this good moment only further reveals the films flaws as a whole: the scene adds nothing to the plot, and it's forgotten as soon as it's over. In fact, the story reaches new absurd levels as the lead characters (Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin, trying hard but ultimately defeated) continue to run around from place to place, leaving a trail of bodies behind themwhich no one seems to notice. It's another bit of that movie logic, folks; have stuff happen, but ignore the consequences, because they might slow down the story even more.

A while back, when I reviewed Bless the Child, I was perhaps too kind to a movie that most people dismissed out of hand. The reason for my marginally favorable comments was not that the film was good, but that it could have been even worseyou have to leave room at the bottom of the curve for the next film to fall even lower. Well, Lost Souls does fall even lower. After watching it, you may find yourself starting to think, 'Yeah, Bless the Child wasn't quite that horrible.' Heaven help you, you may even find yourself saying, 'End of Days is starting to look pretty good!'

But seriously, the recent spate of Devil movies has really sent Hollywood to Hell in a hand basket. Out of the entire bunch, the only one really worth seeing is Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate. Rent that video instead of wasting time on this. Or, just as well, go see The Exorcist again.

By the way, Prufock Productions, the company responsible for Lost Souls, has already announced that they have another supernatural thriller in the works. Now that's a scary thought.

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