cast: Eliza Dushku, Melissa Sagemiller, Casey Affleck, Angela Featherstone, Wes Bentley
director: Steve Carpenter
85 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen aspect ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video
reviewed by Emma French
Soul Survivors is marked as a disconcerting generic mishmash from the opening scenes, in which it tries and fails at teen romance, clubbers’ cautionary tale, campus comedy, and suspense thriller. Various incidents begin to suggest that this is a horror film, but one of the most slow-moving and least scary movies in the canon. Though the relationship is barely developed before a fatal car crash in which the driver, Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), appears to kill her lover Sean (Casey Affleck), the remainder of this dull yet offensive flick hinges on their all-conquering love for each other, transcending mortal boundaries. An agonising chain of events ensues for Cassie and viewers alike, of gruesome nosebleeds and hallucinogenic visits from Sean and other odd spectral aggressors, including psychic K.D. Lang look-a-like, Raven (Angela Featherstone), and a man with his face chillingly coated in… plastic wrap.
A final twist, the least original in film and television history (think Bobby Ewing stepping out of Pam’s shower in Dallas), is intended to silence all queries, but insufficiently redeems the endless nonsensical holes and inconsistencies along the way. Thus Cassie returns to her university place immediately after Sean’s funeral, but receives no pastoral care of any kind and attends a college where vacant hallways, deserted locker rooms and empty swimming pools luxuriously abound. Cassie’s college room is a sumptuous loft apartment – that echoes the palatial space inhabited equally improbably by Jennifer Beals’ welder dancer in Flashdance, and is frequently invaded by her obsessive ex-boyfriend Matt (Wes Bentley) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Eliza Dushku), a freakish 1980s’ Goth throwback. Spectrally beyond any need to attend class or lectures, they help Cassie to pop pills, have night sweats and redecorate. Though, natch, the paint soon turns to blood in yet another vision, it was more frightening when it went on the walls as tangerine and pea green.
Bentley, who radiated ‘Next Big Thing’ in American Beauty, provides a genuine element of pathos: reduced not only to appearing in abysmal movies but to parodying his break-out role, a kind of Linda Blair for the millennium. What Bentley played as quirky eccentricity and emotional damage in American Beauty is caricatured by him in Soul Survivors as a great deal of wide-eyed, psychotic staring and ‘intensity’. Sagemiller, blandly sexless in Get Over It, continues to play to type. Casey Affleck forms part of a criminally charisma-free contingent of teen male leads, like Sagemiller’s co-star Ben Foster in Get Over It, who create a genuine sense of marvel that they could beat anyone in the audition process. Luke Wilson, generally an actor with some degree of talent and discrimination, is one of the film’s unintentionally horrifying elements – miscast as angelic Catholic priest Father Jude.
Most culpable, though, is the film’s queasy, dubious subtext of sexual aggression and violence against women. Cassie’s pale, bruised body, particularly in facial close-up, is unnervingly vulnerable and open, frequently bloodied or assailed by a phallic drill. In a strange sequence it is suggested that a case of mistaken identity leads to her having sex against her will, and Annabel is punched, attacked and syringed to oblivion. Creating nonsense for 90 minutes and then passing it off as a cunning series of twists is not big or clever, and recycling the worst excesses of the slasher and sexploitation genres for cheap shocks verges on the immoral.
DVD extras: trailer, production notes.