Deliver us from evil? Oh God, please deliver us from shitty horror films. I seem to recall “Lost Souls” was originally due to be released a year ago, when I first saw trailers. The movie itself plays like somebody’s half-baked idea for an “Exorcist” sequel, though not nearly as excruciating as the first one that was actually made. Winona Ryder stars as Maya, a Catholic schoolteacher. After being possessed and exorcised as a teenager, she’s helped out Father Lareaux (John Hurt) with exorcisms since then. When one such ritual goes awry, nearly killing the priest, Maya figures out that Satan himself is comin’ to town, and he’s going to take the body of true-crime novelist Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin). Pretty soon, Maya and Peter join forces to find a way to stop the dark lord from claiming squatter’s rights to Pete’s body.
I appreciate the fact that first-time director Janusz Kaminski has won Oscars as the director of photography for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” but neither great nor competent cinematography is the same as appropriate photography. A grainy and washed-out look adds a sense of bleakness that does wonders for movies like “Seven” and “Three Kings,” but it’s a distraction most anywhere else. Also, I’d like to note that any time I spend musing about the color palette the director chose is not time well spent for a horror film.
Have people forgotten how to make these things? It’s not that friggin’ hard. The greatest decade for truly bone-chilling, pants-shitting horror was the 1970’s. Strangely, that was the same decade that American filmmakers embraced a documentary-like realism. Coincidence? I don’t think so. What frightens us the most has to do with that which is most familiar. What director William Friedkin did for “The Exorcist” was to establish a mundane reality for the MacNeil family before tearing it to shreds. “Lost Souls” is just wall-to-wall goofiness. Friedkin also knew to take his material seriously. Even if he didn’t buy into the Catholicism, he bought into the reality of the events he created. Kaminski, by his approach, holds everything at arm’s length. The cast doesn’t help much either, as Chaplin’s performance is too cold and static to register the severity of what he’s going through. At one point toward the end, he actually seems to be laughing, which is pretty much the reaction of the audience who saw the movie with me. Nobody but Beetlejuice laughs at “The Exorcist”.
“Lost Souls” appears to belong with the rest of the “end-of-the-millennium” thrillers from last year. Remember “Stigmata” and “End of Days”? Well, wait a month and you won’t remember “Lost Souls” either.