Beware the impulse rent, my son. The frumious video may gyre and gimble and suck. You know what I'm talking about. We've all been there.
I couldn't honestly feign surprise at the sucktitude. The title was, after all, a pun; an almost sure sign of a lousy movie (Grosse Pointe Blank comes to mind as a rare exception, but nothing else does.) But I felt in the mood for a good supernatural thriller, and it's damn near impossible to find which ones are good just from the titles, which have a general sense of sameness about them, so I just grabbed one with the best-looking chick on the cover, for what little good it did. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, indeed.
For starters, let me advise you that you could easily just skip the very first scene, as it seems have crap-all to do with the rest of the film. The experienced lateral thinker might extend that notion to skipping the whole damn movie, but let's take this slowly. We have a pair of teenaged couples who hang out and double-date and then have a bit of an indiscretion involving one half of each couple that causes some brief dissension before a terrible car wreck claims the life of our heroine's boyfriend, you know, tragically before they could make amends. She then keeps seeing him hanging around her at college, along with the two undesirable freakos who caused the wreck in the first place. It's all allegedly very spooky.
Let me digress a moment to discuss the packaging. The cover art prominently features Eliza Dushku of Buffy and Bring it On fame, who isn't exactly painful on the ole' retinas, and who appears to have simply brought her Buffy wardrobe with her. However, this isn't her film. The lead actress is barely visible at the back of the group. One can smell the marketers at work here, electing to put the more well-known actress at the fore of the image, though this seriously begs the question of why they didn't obviate the need for this by casting the better-known girl in the lead role to begin with. Add to this the claim on the package that this is the "version that you couldn't see in theaters." Bullshit. This may be the version that you didn't see in theaters (though frankly, since about four people saw this in the theater, that's not much of a pointful distinction,) but nothing here is even remotely too shocking or risque to be seen in theaters. Most of the film is tame enough for TV viewing, so don't get up the hopes that the advertisers are dishonestly trying to provoke.
Our actual lead actress, Melissa Sagemiller of Get Over It and possibly nothing else prior, isn't actually uncute, since Hollywood only casts cute people no matter what the role, but spends most of her time running from our pair of third-rung Jason wanna-bes up various halls and alleys until she's stopped dead by a chain-link fence that turns her muscles into flopping fish, of course. How does that particular scene still make it into movies? Should not the collective groans that surely must issue from cast and crew alike when such scenes are set up shame the director into trying something new? Should, but apparently doesn't. I'm glad these sorts of silly chase scenes are still the best things that horror directors can seem to come up with. In between, Sagemiller's Cassie pines for her dead boyfriend, talks to her dead boyfriend, worries she might be losing her mind, and finds solace talking to Luke Wilson as a campus priest with a mysterious secret. I'm not going to tell you what it is, because you'll have probably guessed it before I finish this sentence anyway. I will mention that the wacky twist ending to the film makes the wacky twist concerning the priest absolutely superfluous. In fact, the ending itself is pretty darn superflous, and includes one of those last-minute "Booga! Ha, just kidding; film's over" bits that everyone certainly must hate by now.
The film was apparently pushed back several times and seriously recut, and continuity seriously wasn't an issue with seriously anyone here. Seriously. When Dushku's Annabel finds out about Cassie's tryst with her boyfriend, she gets understandably pissed, only to be seen cheering Cassie on at a swim meet in the very next scene. I know raccoons what've got more sense than that. You wanna know what's really wrong with this movie? Consider this: early on, Cassie and Annabel are painting their dorm room, get into a play-fight with the paintbrushes, and then hop in the shower together. You know what's coming, right? Right? Wrong. They shower fully clothed and do nothing naughty whatsoever, in a totally blatant case of audience baiting. I'm not trying to sound like a perv; I'm just illustrating a point, which is that this film gives you nothing on any level. It's not intellectually or emotionally stimulating, but it doesn't deign to even give the viewer any cheap thrills, either. Who was supposed to be the audience for this? They get Eliza Dushku to dress in leather and dance about wildly, and then keep the camera spinning about nauseatingly so we can't even see her. Point? They contrive some supposed trip through the netherworld and all that happens is that some ugly guys chase you around. Point? Did anyone here have the slightest glimmer of an imagination? Incongruously, they seemed to think so. The rather minimal bonus crap on the DVD consists largely of everyone involved talking about how brilliant the movie was, one person even going so far as to say that this was the film they'd wanted to do for their entire life. I don't even know how to begin to answer that.
Oh, wait; yes I do. Dumbasses!
There's a reason this film seems to be clogging up the cheapie bins, which is that the American public is actually not quite as stupid as Hollywood seems to think it is. Horror writers need to get a clue in the worst way, and Eliza needs to start taking better scripts so I can watch her in something without feeling as though I should punch myself in the brain afterwards. About the only clear message one can take away from Soul Survivors is that if a friend seems to be acting somewhat more gay than usual, it could be because they're an undead spirit. Words to live by. Keep them well.
-review by Matt Murray