Lost Souls
directed by Janusz Kaminski
(New Line, 2000)

From the previews and trailer I had seen, I expected Lost Souls to be an incredible movie. When I first watched it, I admit I was disappointed, but I believe this feeling sprang primarily from the fact that the movie is quite different from what I had expected. I quickly forgot most of the movie entirely, save the end. Thus, when I watched it a second time recently, it was almost like watching a brand new film.

The fact that I could so easily forget what happened in such a short time definitely points to a weakness in the plot or presentation, but I have really come to appreciate Lost Souls for what it is.

This begs the question: what is Lost Souls? I can't really pigeonhole this movie into any specific genre. I would not call it a horror movie, even though there are some exorcism scenes, and the religious aspects that dominate the story differentiate it from your regular drama. In some degree, it is a mystery, I suppose, as we follow along with the characters in discovering whether or not the protagonist Maya's Antichrist theory is true. This is definitely not a feel-good movie. The whole atmosphere and look of the film reflects the gloomy atmosphere of the storyline. Everything is dark, and water is often present in the form of rain or leaking pipes. The characters have a sort of pall over them, with Winona Ryder's character Maya appearing totally washed-out most of the time -- truly this is no glamorous role Ryder chose to play. Everyone seems to dress in black or similarly dark colors, and lighting is kept consistently low or blocked altogether. In one sense, everyone and everything appears lifeless; the gloomy atmosphere is a perfect environment for the evolution of the story.

The plot is relatively straightforward, although anyone watching this film without at least some background in Antichrist theorizing may struggle a little bit early on. Ben Chaplin plays crime writer Peter Kelson; he seems to have everything going for him until a strange young woman, Maya Larkin (played very well by Ryder), tries to convince him that Evil does in fact exist (with a capital E) by giving him a tape of an exorcism she participated in. Descrambling the code that the exorcised man had written while possessed, Larkin becomes convinced that Kelson is about to be transformed into an incarnate Antichrist. The journey of discovery upon which she and Kelson eventually embark does seem a little rushed at times, but Kelson begins to find evidence that what Maya is telling him is true.

Chaplin portrays his character's sense of increasing frustration, confusion and disbelief quite well. As you can imagine, finding out you are about to become the Antichrist can be a rather unsettling experience. Although he doesn't figure too prominently in the movie, John Hurt gives a wonderful performance as Father Lareaux, the exorcist whose much-needed help is denied to Maya just when she needs it the most. Some of his best and most intense moments can be found in the deleted exorcism scenes found on the DVD.

Well before the ending, one begins to wonder just how the filmmakers are going to handle the ultimate conclusion. I, for one, think the ending was very well done. It may not send you reeling with its power, but it feels right. The filmmakers deserve a note of congratulations for making sure the movie's exorcism scenes do not become copies of what has been done so well before; the scenes as we see them are well presented in a visually interesting way, and they are not so drawn out as to steal the viewer's attention from the real plot of the movie.

If you have no interest whatsoever in this subject matter, you will most likely not like Lost Souls, but those of us with such an interest are presented with a rather novel Antichrist scenario. It is the plot and not special effects that drives this somber film, giving it a level of intelligence far above that found in many a sensationalist film on this fascinating topic. Lost Souls may not entertain you, but it will certainly engage your mind.

by Daniel Jolley
1 October 2005

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