Directed by: Janusz Kaminski
Starring: Winona Ryder, John Hurt
First-time director Janusz Kaminski (a former cinematographer best known for being married to Holly Hunter, who was smart enough to stay out of this movie) makes his bid for the Son o' Satan Sweepstakes with Lost Souls. The results are so derivative that the film should have been titled Satanism by the Number -- a fact obviously not lost on the producers, since this opus gathered dust on a shelf for two years before being fobbed off on moviegoers as part of the seasonal Halloween crop of horror offerings. Film fans looking for a thrill may find one or two well-done horrific turns. There's a splendidly effective hallucinatory sequence set in a public restroom, where Winona Ryder's character appears to be menaced by a supposedly possessed serial killer. Unfortunately, this is merely an isolated moment in a film that not only oozes ordinariness and shamelessly pilfered ideas, but affords the viewer plot holes through which the Queen Mary could easily maneuver, and doesn't know the difference between grafted-on effects and genuine style and atmosphere. The plot is simple and serviceable enough, for this sort of movie. An ultra-secret, almost-renegade branch of the Catholic Church, spearheaded by a largely wasted John Hurt and the formerly possessed Ryder, is out to stop the advent of the Antichrist, who turns out to be a best-selling writer of books on serial killers (Ben Chaplin). The savvy horror fan will be quick to recognize traces of The Sentinel and The Omen series here. And if that's not enough, the film boasts no less than two exorcisms (three, if you count flashback inserts to Ryder's own unfortunate encounter with the demonic world) that are more than a little reminiscent of both The Exorcist and Exorcist III, only absurdly tricked out in MTV-styled image manipiulation and irritating "shakey-cam" photography (made that much more so by being shot in wide-screen). Along the way to the film's stultifyingly predictable conclusion, there are echoes of other (and far better) horror films. There's something here from just about everyone from Roman Polanski to David Cronenberg, all of it dressed in the dreariest underlit color scheme imaginable. The entire film takes place in a milieu too reminiscent of David Fincher's Se7en -- a world where even when the sun shines, there's no light. No wonder these people are morbidly obsessed with gloomy scenarios! All of this might still be passable if it weren't so incredibly predictable and disjointed. There isn't one real surprise in the film's entire 97 minutes -- despite the fact that Ryder's character is named Maya, offering some hope for a plot twist involving the Indian goddess of illusion. It is, of course, possible that post-production tampering is responsible for some of the film's more incoherent moments, as when the previously catatonic serial killer suddenly appears out of nowhere to menace Ryder and Chaplin. Just where he comes from and how he got there are questions the film never answers; and it compounds the problem by not even explaining what happens to him! Meanwhile, Ryder and Chaplin leave bodies in their wake wherever they go, yet no one seriously inteferes with them, and the police are not so much as referenced, none of which helps the patchwork nature of the already-implausible story. Good horror films are few and far between these days, and this isn't one of them. Moviegoers in search of Halloween-season fare would be far better advised to take in the revamped version of The Exorcist and see how this kind of thing should be done.