In between the slasher-lite revival and emergence of Torture Porn, horror found itself in another transition period. Nowhere was this more evident than the 2001 movie year. Some good horror movies – The Others, Frailty, Session 9, and Pulse – made their way into theatres. Quite a few of these releases disappointed (Ghost of Mars, Valentine). One of the more poorly received horror movies of 2001 was teen chiller Soul Survivors. Critics hated it and the box office was a graveyard. In spite of a decent budget and cast of up-and-coming young stars, it was an unmitigated disaster.
It was supposed to one last night out together before college. Cassie, her boyfriend Sean, and two best friends, visit a secret club in an abandoned church for dancing and drinking. But the ends in a tragic car crash that kills Sean. Grief-stricken and traumatized, Cassie struggles to move on with her life. And when mysterious figures start haunting her, she begins questioning her sanity.
Soul Survivors a Loud, Inept Attempt at Horror
Somehow Soul Survivors fails on almost all fronts of horror filmmaking. Writer and director Stephen Carpenter attempts to weave a suspenseful mystery that recalls classics like Jacob’s Ladder and Carnival of Souls. But underwritten characters and plot holes riddle Carpenter’s screenplay. In what world would someone still be friends with someone dating the former love of their life? Is their dating pool that limited? Our heroine, Cassie, says she isn’t going back to school after the accident. Yet she’s back in school in the next scene. And mysterious masked characters who seemingly play a pivotal role to the story – Soul Survivors does nothing interesting with them. Stuff just kind of happens until we finally find ourselves at the climax.
In place of mood, Carpenter hammers you over the head with a loud, booming, and generic rock score.
This brings us to the next big problem. Soul Survivors is dull, repetitive, and lacks any scares. While Carnival of Souls and Jacob’s Ladder were atmospheric, surreal experiences, Soul Survivors lacks that same mood. In place of mood, Carpenter hammers you over the head with a loud, booming, and generic rock score. In addition, Soul Survivors paces itself in a sluggish manner, recycling the same scene – people chasing Cassie, no one believing her – rather than steadily dropping puzzle pieces for audiences. As a result, the climax devolves into a giant exposition dump.
Soul Survivors Wastes Its Cast on Underdeveloped Characters
Contrary to the promotional material, Eliza Dushku is not the star. In fact, Dushku plays a pretty small supporting role. At the time, Dushku was riding the high of her Buffy the Vampire Slayer role, so it’s not surprising that Artisan Entertainment put her up front. Even in a smaller role, it’s always nice to see Dushku in a genre movie – she’d get a better shot a couple of years later in Wrong Turn. But Soul Survivors is actually Melissa Sagemiller’s movie. Despite less recognizability, Sagemiller acquits herself quite well in what’s an underwritten role in a poorly written movie.
Contrary to the promotional material, Eliza Dushku is not the star.
Somehow Soul Survivors recruited several other up-and-coming stars. Yes, there’s Wes Bentley play a weaselly and smarmy-looking ‘Matt’, Cassie’s ex-boyfriend. It’s the kind of character that has largely defined Bentley’s career. And he’s good in the role. You’ll also find Ben Affleck’s baby brother, Casey Affleck, as Cassie’s current boyfriend, Sean. And Soul Survivors wildly miscasts Luke Wilson (Vacancy) as a priest. Both Affleck and Wilson – like the rest of the main cast – are head and shoulders above the movie.
Soul Survivors Dares You To Survive to the Closing Credits
There’s bad movies, and then there’s inept ones. Though its production values are decent – no boom mics make an appearance – Soul Survivors gets absolutely nothing right about horror movies. In fact, its strong cast and budget make how it is even more egregious. Loud, poorly edited and paced, repetitive, and lacking anything that could be confused as a scare, Soul Survivors has almost no redeeming qualities. On the bright side, most of the cast went on to greener pastures.