Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: "6 Souls"

The filmmakers behind "6 Souls" are not without skill, and it features some very talented actors -- Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Frances Conroy. So why is it a complete disaster?

This psychological/paranormal thriller is totally lacking in suspense, or an engaging plot, or any kind of visceral impact. Honestly, I struggled to get through it.

The studio provided me with an online screener, so I watched it in fits and starts over a couple of days. No doubt this experience was completely different from sitting in a theater, we're you're immersed in darkness and can't leave ... well, at least not if you're there to do a job.

My guess is if I could leave, I would have.

The movie, originally titled "Shelter," was shot fully five years ago by Swedish directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, from a screenplay by Michael Cooney, a horror specialist ("Identity," "Jack Frost"). I get the sense that it didn't test well, so it was back-burnered while the studio figured out what to do with it. Rather than just dumping it on video, they went with the increasingly common two-tiered strategy of putting it out on pay-per-view with a simultaneous modest theatrical release.

The set-up is that it's a split-personality story -- the sort of thing that has existed as cinematic fodder for 40 years or so, despite being an extraordinarily rare and much-debated diagnosis in the psychiatric field. Count Cara Harding (Moore) among the skeptics -- as the story opens, she's testifying in a case where she basically asserts that the whole concept of someone with multiple personalities is bunk.

One person trying to change her mind is her father (Jeffrey DeMunn), also a head-shrinker, who has encountered what he thinks is a legitimate split-personality case. He invites Cara in to consult, and soon she's swept up in the saga.

Moore and DeMunn have some nice scenes together, part of a lifelong father/daughter chess game. He urges her to challenge her preconceived notions of how the human mind works, while she thinks he's unable to admit when he's wrong. If the movie had actually stayed focus on this dynamic, with the patient acting only as a catalyst to further their conflict, it might have made for an interesting drama.

Instead, the story heads straight into schlocky boo-gotcha territory, with increasing evidence that this thorny case of mental instability is, in fact, actually the work of ... wait for it ... The Devil!

Things end up in hillbilly country, where grim snaggletooth men throw hard stares at Cara as she investigates the case. Eventually, she's brought before The Granny, an ancient crone/mystic/leader, who fills her in on the tale of a faith healer who died in the early 20th century after betraying his people.

It becomes apparent that his horrid curse is being replicated today, with victims bothered by festering sores on their back in the shape of a cross, and a rash of (literally) dirty mouths.

Rhys Meyers flails mightily in the role of the patient, but ends up coming across as more silly than frightening. His abrupt shifts to different personalities are triggered by a phone call requesting to speak with one of his other hosts, at which point his head snaps back and he makes all sorts of odd crunching noises, as if  he's practicing self-chiropractic.

His default personality is David, a mild-mannered Southern boy who's confined to a wheelchair. The flip side of the loony coin is Adam, a brash New Yorker who leaps out of the wheelchair, antagonizing Cara with questions about her own family and past. Later we encounter Wesley and Charles, two men who ... well, I shouldn't give that away.

"6 Souls" is a wretchedly unwatchable train wreck of a film.

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