Souls (2000, dir: Janusz Kaminksi; scp: Pierce Gardner, Betsy
Stahl; cast: Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, Philip Baker Hall, Ashley Edner,
John Hurt. W. Earl Brown)
those dotcom commercials? The ones with sped up herky-jerky motion,
and cool electro-bright colors? Or those Mercedes-Benz TV ads, with
the sudden flashes of white intercutting sepia-toned shots of cars careening
amidst a starkly cold environment?
"coming of the Antichrist/Armageddon" films? Can't get enough of those?
see an Antichrist film featuring the visuals of a dotcom commercial? Now's your chance!
no putdown. Storywise and stylistically, Lost
Souls breathes new vibrant life into Revelations. No mean feat,
considering the oh-so-many times horror (and other genres) have retold
the familiar tale of the End Of Times.
Souls retells the Revelation mythos from the perspective of a reluctant
Antichrist. Peter Kelso (Ben Chaplin) is an atheist and best-selling
author, slowly convinced by Maya (Winona Ryder) that on his 33rd birthday
his body will be "taken over" by Satan. At which moment Peter will
"cease to exist." (This slow self- awareness of one's own divine
mission mirrors that of Christ in The
Last Temptation of Christ -- although, in this case, Peter will
no longer be "Peter.")
discussion indicates that horror fandom's opinion of Lost
Souls is sharply divided. The controversy includes the story
(especially its "small" ending), but is primarily directed at the film's
the story: One fan praised the film for its provocative questioning of
the nature of religion, God, and Satan. I disagree that it does that,
although I join the film's admirers. Lost
Souls's perspective is intriguing, but not subversive. Its fundamental
story is rigidly faithful to Revelation. God is all-good and all-powerful. Satan is evil, the Great Deceiver. Man (or woman, i.e., Maya) can
defeat Satan with sufficient Faith in Christ.
that "small" ending. Many viewers have a problem with it. How
does one end an Antichrist film? If one's expectations derive from The
Omen series, The
Omega Code, The
Devil's Advocate, The
Seventh Sign, or The
Visitor, one may expect impending Armageddon. Thunder
and lightning, natural disasters and military battles, eardrum-shattering
music and sound effects, even melting faces and flocks of doves. But director Janusz Kaminski thwarts our expectations. His ending
is unexpectedly "small." A rising buildup to ... an abrupt whimper,
not a bang.
credits roll, you wonder: That's it? That's the end? And yet
is deceptively anticlimactic.
time. It'll linger in your thoughts, and grow. An ending that's
dark and moody and somber, one that you'll still be contemplating the next
day. More so than when you saw it.
Don't return the video immediately after viewing it. Not unless you
must. You'll want to see Lost
Souls again, the very next day.
Souls is best seen alone, in the dark. I, unfortunately, saw
it with a friend. She kept interrupting, asking questions, making
Souls has atmosphere, pace, rhythm. A bright room with loud viewers
will dampen its impact. And although it has an extremely well-structured
script (I saw some things coming, which is not bad), it's not a simple
script. If you don't pay attention, you'll soon find the succession
of events confusing.
its atmosphere. The controversy over Lost
Souls pertains less to its story than to its style, which threatens
(but does not) overwhelm the story. Although Lost
Souls is Kaminksi's directorial debut, he's long been a leading cinematographer
(his credits include any number of Spielberg films, including Saving
Private Ryan and Schindler's
contend that Kaminksi has gone overboard in displaying his visual tricks. The film has the look of a TV commercial. White flashes punctuated
by thunder, movements jarringly sped up (as though shot on video and transferred
to film), a sepia-saturated world of grays, browns, and golds. A
world simultaneously bright yet murky. Cold and pale. The metallic
look of The
Matrix, or a Wired magazine ad, or a dotcom commercial.
an example of Lost
in the film, three priests (one, the elderly John Hurt) and Maya enter
an asylum to perform an exorcism. They stride single file, slow-motion,
their long steps exaggerated with a wide-angle lens, their loose clothes
billowing (reminiscent of The
Matrix's trenchcoats), their feet thundering with every step. (See below.) Appearing as four futuristic tough-guys approaching a duel; yet this curious
mise-en-scene is here applied to three physically unimpressive priests,
and one slight, frazzled woman.
between style and content risks satire; yet Kaminski intends no satire,
and to his credit, we're not laughing.
visually stunning is a late scene, shot in telephoto: an SUV driving under
a bridge, under the fiery semicircular rings of ... some sort of Men-At-Work
light fixtures, a looming electronic sign reading: No Access.
stylistics serve an aesthetic purpose? One can find one. Kaminski's
dark, somber cinematography creates the impression of a world under a cloud
(it's often raining), of an impending doom descending on humanity. The characters' jarring motions adumbrate the metaphysical and ethical
disintegrations inherent in Armageddon. The thundering footsteps
shot in slow motion emphasize the import of the impending confrontation. And of course, the impressive stylistics and special effects build to provide
that much more contrast with the unexpectedly "small" ending.
one can aesthetically justify Kaminski's stylistics. But one is also
tempted to wonder: Are these justifications the real reason for his stylistics,
or did Kaminski apply them simply because they looked cool? Certainly,
the film's detractors think so.
stylistics work for me. And although they threaten to overwhelm the
story, they do not do so. Especially when Kaminski mutes the stylistics
near the end, shifting emphasis to the story.
horror works best on a low-budget; Lost
Souls is an example of a big budget put to good use. A low budget
couldn't deliver Kaminski's visuals.
its stylistics and controversy, Lost
Souls's story and structure is traditional. Maya and her priestly
allies have determined that Peter is the coming Antichrist, and they must
stop him. Either by working with him, or if need be, against him. Contrast that with a nontraditional (and smallish) Antichrist film: Hal
Book of Life (1998).
Book of Life is not a horror film, not even a horror-art film. It's an indie film that bears some striking similarities to (and striking
differences from) Lost
Souls. Like Lost
Book of Life features nontraditional stylistics. Shot on digital
Book of Life features pale impressionistic visuals, and skewed camera
angles. Storywise, it too features a reluctant Antichrist.
But unlike Lost
Book of Life also has a reluctant Jesus. God is the heavy, distant
and cruel, because He seeks to destroy Earth through Armageddon. Jesus wishes to avert Armageddon, for humanity's sake. The Antichrist
shares Jesus' goals, preferring to keep things just as they are. Together, Christ and Antichrist plot to subvert God's plans for Armageddon.
Souls proffers no such theological ambivalence. Maya is wholly
committed to God, her Faith strong. Through Faith in her Catholicism,
she is able to ferret out Satan, recognizing his lies in the possession
of a priest.
Meg Ryan is credited as one of Lost
Souls's producers. She does not appear in the film, so it seems
she's a genuine producer here, rather than an actress using her clout to
assume the title. With Lost
Souls, Ryan has reason to be proud.
Souls will be the Blade
Runner of horror. Blade
Runner was a critical and box office bomb upon release, condemned for
its "style over substance," yet slowly it built a cult following, becoming
one of the most admired and influential science fiction films in history.
right. An Urban
Legends sequel is a nominee, Lost
Souls is not. (If you're looking for The
Cell or The Hollow Man, they were nominated
for Best Science Fiction Film, although they could be considered horror,
so go figure.)
its past roster of nominees and winners, a snub from the Academy is probably
the best assurance you could have on the excellence of Lost
Review copyright by Thomas
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