Soul Survivors (2001) Movie Review

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“Soul Survivors” comes to us with the all too familiar stench of an oft-mentioned, long delayed release. I first heard of this film a couple of years back, nodded with vague interest then completely forgot about it. Fast-forward to the present day, when I see the flashy trailer that sort of reminds me of “Valentine” (which I have to confess to watching) and decided to check it out.

Yet again, I am left cursing my gullibility, for “Soul Survivors” is a pathetic mess that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a serious psychological horror or an empty attempt to cash in on the teen flick craze. Not that it really matters, for this is a terrible, terrible film whichever way you look at it. Sitting through something like this is a truly depressing experience, and one that further decreases my belief that Hollywood is capable of churning out a horror film that is even remotely interesting or original. “Soul Survivors” is a complete insult to any viewer, and to horror fans it’s like being patted on the head while someone sticks a knife in your back.

The plot follows the misadventures of college co-ed Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), whose life takes a turn for the weird after she and a couple of friends survive the car accident that claims the life of her boyfriend Sean (Casey Affleck). Before long, poor Cassie is hallucinating, her friends are acting creepy, and Sean returns to haunt her. On top of all this, a masked, gimped-up psycho begins to chase her all over campus, leaving her in fear for her life. What’s a girl to do?

As most genre fans will recognize, what we have here is a thinly veiled, teen friendly remake of the 1962 classic “Carnival of Souls”. Unfortunately, “Soul Survivors” has completely failed to reproduce any of the disturbing, off-kilter atmosphere, the creeping suspense, or the genuine frights that made the black and white shocker so memorable. Instead, director Stephen Carpenter takes the easy, commercial route, throwing in music video styling, a pounding metal soundtrack, and a few highly derivative scare scenes.

Although in today’s film commercial industry originality has sadly become acceptably rare, surely it wouldn’t be too much to ask for a little gusto? Apparently so, as Carpenter directs by the numbers and utterly fails to inject any kind of action or excitement. What’s worse, this is the kind of “Surely You Don’t Mean!” type of film that insults the audience by explaining every plot detail through line after line of pointless dialogue, then throwing in a few flashbacks just to make sure we haven’t missed the point.

It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who gave us two eighties genre high points in “The Kindred” and “The Dorm that Dripped Blood”. Here, Carpenter hardly makes an effort, and “Soul Survivors” is a truly meek piece of trash that would hardly disturb a ten-year-old. Really, I’m confused here. What in the name of God is the point of making a horror film without the horror? Why the hell didn’t Carpenter just go and remake “She’s all That”? For Christ’s sake, he even has the cheek to throw in a completely undeserved Hollywood ending which makes about as much sense as low-alcohol beer, and for that at least, he should hang.

As might be expected for a film of this type, “Soul Survivors” has an all-star cast of eye candy, most notably Wes Bentley (“American Beauty”), Eliza Dushku (of “Buffy” and “Wrong Turn” fame) and Casey Affleck (brother of Ben). Unfortunately, like every aspect of the film, the acting from all three is dull and uninspired. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, as it’s not like they had anything to work with in the first place. Melissa Sagemiller is incredibly annoying as the heroine, bleating and whining her way through the film like a diseased sheep begging to but put out of its misery. Seriously, although she was pretty good in the more recent “Love Object”, I just can’t imagine anyone rooting for her through this mess. And without a central villain figure to cheer on, the viewer is pretty much at a loss.

Gorehounds, do I even need to tell you what to expect? Or rather, what not to expect, as there is absolutely nothing to get excited about here. No blood, no gore, no point. Seriously though, whilst some horror films can still be classics without carnage (recently, “The Devil’s Backbone” and “The Others”), “Soul Survivors” is simply far too dull to cut it as an atmospheric creeper, and way, way too stupid to be called a psychological thriller. Simply put: snake eyes on all counts.

I’m not just recommending that you avoid “Soul Survivors”, I’m insisting.

Stephen Carpenter (director) / Stephen Carpenter (screenplay)
CAST: Melissa Sagemiller …. Cassie
Wes Bentley …. Matt
Casey Affleck …. Sean
Eliza Dushku …. Annabel
Angela Featherstone …. Raven
Luke Wilson …. Jude


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Author: James Mudge

James is a Scottish writer based in London. He is one of BeyondHollywood.com’s oldest tenured movie reviewer, specializing in all forms of cinema from the Asian continent, as well as the angst-strewn world of independent cinema and the plasma-filled caverns of the horror genre. James can be reached at jamesmudge (at) btinternet.com, preferably with offers of free drinks.