Soul Survivors Review

The Movie
The disc box / movie poster for Soul Survivors features the usual “beautiful young things lined up in a row” in the Scream mode, and it also proclaims that it’s from the producers of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. So everything is pointing towards the standard teen hack-and-slash horror flick. Except it isn’t that. Well, it thinks it isn’t, and instead tries to be more of a psychological thriller. The story actually involves four teenagers, Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), Sean (Casey Affleck), Annabel (Eliza Dushku) and Matt (Wes Bentley). After attending a wild party and getting into some alcohol-fuelled jealous arguments, they head off home. They are pursued by some bizarre masked characters who force their car (driven by Cassie) off the road. After the car wreck Cassie, Annabel and Matt survive, but Sean (Cassie's ex) is killed. Annabel and Matt seem to get over things all right and get on with their lives. Cassie, however, is a mess. She is racked by guilt that she caused the death of Sean, and is plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. Worse, she is still being hunted by the bizarre masked characters from the night of the crash. And then she starts seeing dead people - Sean to be exact - who keeps visiting her and telling her everything will be OK. As things get progressively worse and she feels she can no longer trust her friends she goes to a priest (Luke Wilson) for help. What is real, what’s in her head, and is she just going mad?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying something new in this genre, as we have certainly had our fill of crazed guys with hooks / masks / etc chopping up college kids. The problem here is that the script and the execution let everything down badly. Instead of anything remotely menacing, frightening or otherwise disturbing we just get lots of confused scenes, largely involving Cassie running through corridors and pursued by various bad guys who are never properly explained. Well they are explained in a way, but only by a “surprise” ending that is not only fairly obvious but just serves to be convenient in such a way that things don’t really need to be explained. It’s supposed to be a sort of shock Sixth Sense style resolution in that it makes you want to go back and watch it again, but I doubt you will be bothered to do so.

As for the acting, most of it is neither here nor there, though there are standouts at both ends of the scale. Luke Wilson’s priest Jude is extremely bland; you wonder why anyone would turn to him for help in a situation like this. Eliza Dushku turns in her usual bad girl / wild child / Faith variant; she’s good at it but really needs to do something different to avoid typecasting hell.

With better scripting and direction there may have been an interesting story in here. Instead it just comes over as yet another Scream wannabe with pretensions above its station. Disappointing is probably the wrong word as first indications were always that this wasn’t going to be up to much. But the framework for a potentially interesting story was here, and it could have been a pleasant surprise. It wasn't.

The 1.77:1 anamorphic is of very good quality. A great deal of this film is set in darkness and the image does hold together well. Those scenes with any light look colourful and sharp.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has a fair kick when it comes to music and directional sound effects. Sometimes the sound effects and music overwhelm the dialogue, which costs it a couple of marks, but generally this is an impressive soundtrack.

Video Extras
Firstly, this is the ”Killer Cut” version of the movie, promising “More blood!”, “More sex!” and “More terror than the theatrical version!” (their exclamation marks, not mine). If you were expecting an “unrated” version like American Pie though, you will be disappointed. This is the “R” rated version that was the original theatrical cut, but in the end a trimmed version was screened in US cinemas with a PG-13 certificate. The theatrical version ran for 84 minutes; this one runs 85 minutes, so I’ll leave you to do the maths on how much more you’re getting.

To get to the extras themselves, initially a choice of three different menu systems gets you into the disc. Firstly in the extras section we have Behind the Deathmask: The making of Soul Survivors. This really needs to be up before Trades Descriptions as there is absolutely nothing “making of” about this at all. Instead we have about four minutes of promo of the worst possible kind, complete with an appalling voiceover that made me feel bilious. Worthless.

Next we have a select scene commentary by Melissa Sagemiller. Note the “select scene” qualifier, as what it amounts to is that this commentary is only on six scenes of the movie rather than the whole thing. Fortunately the menu system does allow you to jump to the commentary sections rather than having to sit through a lot of silence. As for the commentary itself, Sagemiller has a few interesting comments about the filming, but frequently just describes what’s happening on screen – as she only speaks for around nineteen minutes it means that you won’t get much out of this at all.

There are three deleted scenes presented in a rough-cut format, in a mixture of full screen and non-anamorphic widescreen. One of these (from which a still on the disc box was derived) appears to be an alternative ending, but with no explanations of any kind here we will never know.

The next extra is a little odd to say the least. Living Dangerously: the Art of Harvey Danger is a ten minute deliberately low budget featurette. “Harvey Danger” are a band that provided music for the soundtrack. This spoof has them pretending that Soul Survivors was their idea and the film studio ripped them off. I think it was meant to be funny…

The animated storyboards is the usual board to finished scene comparisons, for three scenes in the movie. The only interesting note here is that the finished “library” sequence is clearly from the version hacked down for the “PG-13” rating.

The production notes section is a reasonably extensive amount of text about the making of the movie. There is also a cast and crew section which has a decent amount of info and filmography data for the stars and the crew. Everyone that is, except writer / director Steve Carpenter who is bizarrely omitted. In fact, except for the aforementioned production notes section, he’s totally absent from all the extra material. Given the fact that the film was originally trimmed back to a “PG-13” by the studio and not by him, he may be doing a half-hearted “Alan Smithee”.

There are two theatrical trailers for the movie, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and 2.0 stereo. Note that many of the dark scenes from the movie have been excessively brightened up here. Finally we have a sneak peek trailer gallery which sounds a lot more exciting than it really is, as it is just a set of trailers for other Artisan releases. For the record, they are National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Blair Witch 2, The Ninth Gate, Stir of Echoes and The Mangler 2.

DVD-ROM Extras
No ROM extras here.

Final Thoughts
This could have been an interesting psychological thriller / horror movie. Instead it’s a bit of a confusing mess. As for the disc, picture and sound quality are very good, but the extra material looks a lot better listed on the disc box than it actually is. Avoid.

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