LOST SOULS has been on the shelf at New Line for over a year since
its originally scheduled release date last fall. The official story was
that it was pushed back to avoid the slew of similarly-themed films slated
for the pseudo-end of the millennium (END OF DAYS, STIGMATA). In order to
avoid comparisons and find an open market for a film about demonic
possession and exorcism, they waited and waited until October 13, 2000 --
the day the successful re-release of THE EXORCIST went nationwide. So much
for avoiding comparisons.
LOST SOULS isn't just bad because it's not as good as THE EXORCIST.
It's bad because it's yet another exercise in moody production values
supporting an utterly weightless story. Winona Ryder stars as Maya Larkin,
a young woman working on the Catholic Church's equivalent of the X-Files.
Once upon a time she was saved from a demonic possession by Father Ledeaux
(John Hurt); now she works with him and his associates on other exorcisms.
But the granddaddy of all possessions is on the horizon: Maya has
discovered the identity of the man who will become the Antichrist, a
best-selling non-fiction writer named Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin). Kelson
himself has no idea that he may be part of a dark plan, but Maya is
determined to clue him in, even if it means going toe-to-toe with Evil
With a Capital "E."
Gifted cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (who worked with Steven
Spielberg on SCHINDLER'S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) makes his directing
debut with LOST SOULS, and he trots out plenty of visual goodies to tart
up the proceedings. Unfortunately, they're the sort of visual goodies that
just make you chuckle at their obviousness. There are ominous slow-motion
shots of Maya and her associates heading towards an exorcism like an
ecclesiastical crew of reservoir dogs. There are jagged edits and
low-angle shots intended to evoke evil through obscurity. And there are
plenty of shots of slowly-dripping water, which apparently has become the
standard-issue portent of Satanic antics. On exactly one occasion,
Kaminski's freaky imagery evokes a shiver. For the other 94 minutes of
LOST SOULS, it evokes a sense of desperation.
And it's no wonder he's desperate, considering the script he's
working with. It's one thing for a film about the Prince of Darkness to be
melodramatic, or overwrought, or even silly. It's quite another for it to
be an outright bore. LOST SOULS is an incredibly monotonous experience,
never once working up a really good scare or a palpable sense of unease.
It doesn't develop anything resembling momentum towards a satisfyingly
harrowing conclusion, which makes it all-too-easy to dwell on the
sluggishly paced expository scenes. Ryder spends the film looking vaguely
tormented, while Chaplin spends the film looking puzzled and then
vaguely tormented, and there's no reason whatsoever to care about either
one of them. It sometimes seems that every part of LOST SOULS that could
have inspired a genuinely visceral reaction has been edited out, leaving
an indistinct morass of gloomy cinematography in its stead.
Occasionally LOST SOULS shakes itself from its coma-inducing torpor
just long enough to be aggressively dumb. The hilarious climax comes as
Peter's car radio clock ticks down to his "transformation," suggesting not
only that the Apocalypse will be filmed like a scene from SPEED, but that
Peter conscientiously synchronized his clock that morning to Hell Mean
Time. At the very least, such foolishness provides a distraction the rest
of LOST SOULS can't be bothered with. There's no excuse for a movie about
the primal forces of evil to make Satan's influence seem so banal.
Twenty-five years have passed since THE EXORCIST was first released, and
it's still a jolt to the system. LOST SOULS could have remained on New
Line's shelf for another twenty-five years, and no one would have missed
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 posse
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