Lost Souls Review

by "Harvey S. Karten" (film_critic AT compuserve DOT com)
October 14th, 2000


Reviewed by Harvey Karten
New Line Cinema
Director: Janusz Kaminski
Writer: Pierce Gardner (story), Betsy Stahl
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, John Hurt, Elias Koteas, Sarah Wynter, John Diehl, W. Earl Brown, Ashley Edner

    If you want to know why the cost of library paste has gone up more or less proportionally to the price of gasoline, look no further than Janusz Kaminski. A master cinematographer ("Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List"), Kaminski took on the job of directing this time and seems to have cornered the market in glue, pasting together some strips of film to construct a frustratingly fragmented, unconvincing movie about satanic possession. "Lost Souls," which I've been told situated itself on a production shelf for about a year before being released, is a godawful story about God's awful foe whose only claim to fame is its grainy, stylized visual form. Even here, though, rather than having an audience sit through 106 mintues of depressingly granulated film, couldn't Kaminski simply deliver about ten minutes of the stuff and then exhibit a subtitle saying, "OK, folks, you get the idea...the texture is like that of 'The Blair Witch Project' because this is one spooky story...now let's get on with the tale using real film"?

    The film opens with an ominous black-white section, numbers floating about as in Darron Aronfsky's "Pi," then liquefying to transform into names. A number of characters are introduced helter skelter, none developed though each needs to be told to lighten up. Father Lareaux (John Hurt), John Townsend (Elias Koteas) attended by parochial-school teacher Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder) are testing their skills as exorcists on jailbird Henry Birdson (John Diehl), and though the rite is a failure, Maya is put in touch with the reality that she was herself possessed at one time. By scrutizing Birdson's writings, she realizes that the handsome and popular writer Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin) has been chosen for possession, but as an atheist he has only himself to blame. To prove his secularism, Kelson had told a TV interviewer that there is no such thing as evil, i.e. not with a capital E, but that what we ordinary people think of as evil is nothing by a psychological state of narcissism. Maya has a tough time convincing the author about the danger which Satan poses to his life given the man's fame, his good- looking girl friend (Sarah Wynter) and his swank urban

    If Pierce Gardner and Betsy Stahl's story is hopelessly segmented, at least we're treated to a few (but far between) scary sequences embodying Maya's hallucinations. The best occurs in a women's room as Maya, putting on a fresh face, is confronted with a veritable flood of sewage seeping from the three toilets, crumbling walls, and enigmatic missives written on walls. But if you've seen the classics of the genre such as "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby" you've seen it all.

    The film's conclusions, a confrontation in a car between Maya and Peter, is laughable, which is more than you can say about the bulk of this soporific, pasted-together disarray of a film.

Rated R. Running time: 106 minutes. (C) 2000 by Harvey Karten, [email protected]

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