In a burst of typical studio wimpdom, Artisan pulled Steve Carpenter’s horror flick, Soul Survivors, back into the studio and recut the once R-rated movie so that it would be easier to book in our PG-13 world. The move may have pleased a few politicians. It may even have made the movie easier to book. However, this attack of corporate collywobbles has not resulted in a movie anybody much wants to see. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s the rare showing of Soul Survivors where the stars don’t outnumber the audience. Not that putting the guts (so to speak) back into Carpenter’s film would likely have made much difference, since what there is of it is so astonishingly bad that you can’t help but wonder how the project was ever green-lighted in the first place. Apart from some admittedly beautiful cinematography and some truly evocative locations, there is not one redeeming feature in Carpenter’s directorial debut. The storyline is so addled that it quickly becomes a dreary game of “truth or illusion, which is which?” The answer in the case of this movie is another question: Who gives a damn? The characters — played by Casey Affleck (Ben’s little brother), Melissa Sagemuller (Get Over It), Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and Eliza Dushku (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) — are never more than poorly contrived cut-outs, whose actions make very little logical sense and whose motivations make somewhat less. The story has three of these four settling in as freshman college students (Bentley’s character is just hanging around on his way to Harvard for no very apparent reason) when their lives are suddenly changed by a trip to a strange nightclub in a (presumably) desanctified church. The location is interesting enough and Carpenter manages to capture a certain hellish eeriness with it. Unfortunately, the “unspeakable” antics that take place in the club look like nothing more than a goth rave with better trappings than usual. While there, Sagemuller gets the come-on from old boyfriend Bentley and, of course, they kiss just in time for new boyfriend Affleck to get an eyeful. The subsequent argument between Bentley and Affleck results in a car wreck in which, apparently, Affleck gets out of the movie. Not so. He keeps popping back up and saying cryptic things to Sagemuller. The only possible reason for him not speaking plainly is to preserve the tepid sub-Jacob’s Ladder plot for the unsavvy viewer. It hardly seems worth the bother, since Carpenter keeps attempting to enliven the proceedings with “hints” that are about as subtle as getting your attention by whacking you in the head with a ball-peen hammer. All of this is supposed to add up to a horror movie with a shocking ending. Instead, it adds up to a lot of wasted time. If you’re looking for classy thrills, go see The Others. If you want something a bit less cerebral, go see Joy Ride. In fact, go see anything but this movie — as long as Glitter isn’t still playing somewhere.
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