Review by Kim Hollis
September 24, 2001
Soul Survivors doesn't suck.
I start my review with this basic statement because after my recent horrific movie-going experience with Jeepers Creepers, I honestly didn't have high hopes for another movie from the same genre. Add to that apprehension the danger sign that Artisan had pushed Soul Survivors around on the release schedule for about a year before revealing their lack of confidence in the film by releasing it on a paltry 600 screens, and all the pieces were in place for a disastrously awful movie.
Perhaps it was my lowered expectations, or maybe it's actually because the film largely succeeds at being a touch different than the average teen horror flick, but up until the extremely predictable ending, Soul Survivors works. Even though it's easy to tell how the film will wrap up, getting to that point is an entertaining ride.
The story begins with a group of four friends preparing to go to college. The guys are going away to school while their two girlfriends are staying, so they decide to go off to a club for a wild night. During this introduction of sorts, it is established that the four friends are essentially split into two couples. There's Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) and Sean (Casey Affleck), the serious lovebirds, and Matt (Wes Bentley) and Annabel (Eliza Dushku), the wilder pair. We also learn that Cassie and Matt have previously had a serious relationship and that he might still be just a bit hung up on her.
Some weird things start to happen when the group goes to the club. Rather than simply stamping hands for people entering the building, the bouncers actually brand people with a symbol. And when the girls are out on the dance floor, a strange guy in a mask starts messing with Cassie as a bunch of Goth-appearing cronies look on.
After Sean is sent to round up Annabel so they can leave, Matt tries to put the moves on Cassie. Smooth guy that he is, he talks her into giving him "one last goodbye kiss." Sean sees the kiss, and he's upset. Cassie is driving and trying to talk to him, and all of a sudden, a car does a 180 in front of them. Inside the car are the guy with the mask and all of his creepy friends. Cassie broadsides them and both cars go over the railing.
When she wakes, Cassie finds herself confused as it seems she has had a head injury, but she soon learns that Sean is gone. Her bewilderment doesn't stop any time soon, as she starts having waking dreams when she is in class, and has the continued terror of being stalked by the man in the mask as he attempts to kill her. Cassie's world becomes a living nightmare as she contends with not only the guilt she feels over losing Sean, but also the fact that Matt and Annabel are behaving bizarrely while she is the one being labeled as crazy.
The story takes a number of peculiar twists and turns, and some of them are admittedly inexplicable even after the movie ends. Take, for example, the introduction of the Father Jude character (Luke Wilson), a character whose presence in the film never really makes much sense. Still, the mood evoked is dark and foreboding, and while the film itself is never particularly scary, there is a constant tension that builds. I also believe some of the confusion is intentional and appropriate, as we're being made to feel the same disorientation as our heroine.
Sagemiller, a relative unknown whose only previous film credit is in Get Over It, does a fine job of conveying that panicky mystification. The three other young leads are attractive and charismatic as well. Affleck has a somewhat limited role, but it's easy to buy him as the nice, sensitive guy. Taking a page from his Ricky Fitts book, Bentley is just creepy enough that it's never quite certain where his character stands. Dushku is basically playing Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing Annabel, but who cares? None of her fans are going to be particularly upset to see her continuing to play the wild, bad girl.
While Scott Carpenter's script is disjointed and nonsensical at times, somehow the plot twists that don't work are easier to swallow than some of the ones that we've seen in films like Jeepers Creepers and Valentine. Carpenter also directed the film, and at times it really does feel as though he went for style over substance. Perhaps if he had cut out some of the red-herring plot elements that feel as though they were thrown in for the sheer purpose of adding confusion, it might have been a greater success overall. As I mentioned, the ending is extremely predictable despite these red herrings, and I was even a little bit irritated that Carpenter cheated some to get us to that point.
Yet, in the end, I found myself consistently engaged by the action. Soul Survivors is by no means a horror film, and anyone who goes in expecting real horror or suspense is likely to be wildly disappointed. But for what it is, a fast-paced supernatural thriller which showcases the appeal and rising talent of several up-and-coming young stars, Soul Survivors isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon.