If you were born after 2000, you never experienced the brief moral panic that proceeded New Year’s Eve in 1999. Those were the days of the dreaded Y2K virus. For a brief moment in time, people expected to world to shut down and planes to fall from the sky. Never one to miss a scary trend, the horror genre obliged with several apocalyptic thrillers including End of Days and Stigmata. Perhaps fearing a glut in the horror marketplace, some end-of-the-world thrillers, like Bless the Child, missed the December 31st, 1999, deadline. Nearly a year too late, Lost Souls was another belated Satanic sky-is-falling movie that critics savaged upon its release.
Once possessed by a demon, Maya Larkin is now a devout Catholic who teaches school children for the Roman Catholic Church. Following a a failed exorcism of an incarcerated serial killer, Maya believes that the Devil has selected a human host to inhabit. When she deciphers a mysterious code, Maya believes that a prominent true crime author is intended to be the human personification of Satan. Now she must convince this non-believer before the exact moment of his 33rd birthday and the eventual damnation of humanity.
Lost Souls Can’t Find Much New to Say About the End of the World
No synopsis could make Lost Souls sound like a fresh, pressing take on evil and contemporary society. Perhaps the biggest problem with this ‘thriller’ is its screenplay. Somehow two writers received credit for this lukewarm recycling of just about any and very Satanic thriller trope. Not surprisingly, exorcisms, twisted histories of Catholicism, and the number ‘666’ get thrown around as Winona Ryder conducts a half-assed investigation. In fact, Ryder’s character – among a handful of others – never feels fully explained. She’s an orphan, once possessed, now a teacher for the Diocese. For reasons unknown, she plays a religious version of ‘Rogue Cop’. Why she knows the things she does and how she gets away with any number of dubious acts never get any sort of explanation.
Somehow two writers received credit for this lukewarm recycling of just about any and very Satanic thriller trope.
But these plot holes are the least of the problems with Lost Souls. Everything about this biblical, ‘end-of-the-world’ thriller feels completely derivative and rote. Much of Lost Souls feels ripped off from Rosemary’s Baby. Ben Chaplin’s clueless ‘Peter Kelson’ stumbles about an ever-growing conspiracy surrounding him. In fact, one scene set in a church feels like a lukewarm version of Roman Polanski’s classic 60s occult thriller. Everything else about Lost Souls could just have easily been cribbed from any religious horror movie released … ever. Given the talent involved here, the sheer lack of creativity is outstanding.
Lost Souls Wastes Some Beautiful Cinematography on an Otherwise Dull Thriller
Perhaps the saddest part of Lost Souls is that it actually ‘looks’ quite good. Director Janusz Kamiński – an Oscar-winning cinematographer – actually frames some gorgeous scenes. From a purely technical perspective, Lost Souls often looks quite good. Of course, Kamiński doesn’t have a good grasp at how to generate scares, suspense, or tension. This religious horror movie never feels scary or urgent. Stuff just sort of happens in a completely familiar way. And Kamiński’s use of slow-motion generally feels wholly unnecessary. While it’s finale should be ambiguous and unsettling, contrived tropes throttle any chance of a decent conclusion.
From a purely technical perspective, Lost Souls often looks quite good. Of course, Kamiński doesn’t have a good grasp at how to generate scares, suspense, or tension.
As far as casting, Lost Souls either has the wrong people in key roles or wastes great actors in other parts. Though Winona Ryder soared through the 80s and much of the 90s, she feels miscast here. That’s not to say she’s bad in the role – Ryder just feels completely wrong for the part. An underdeveloped screenplay doesn’t do her any favors either. On the other hand, Ben Chaplin feels perfectly cast as a doubtful ‘everyman’ overwhelmed by circumstances. An otherwise stellar supporting cast that includes John Hurt, Alfre Woodard, and Philip Baker Hall, feels completely wasted.
Lost Souls Can’t Exorcise the Feeling That We’ve Seen Its Story Done Better Many Times Before
Perhaps there is no better example of the type of movie that should be featured here in the ‘Worst Movie Ever’ column than Lost Souls. From its cast to its Oscar winning cinematographer director to its classic villain, Lost Souls should have been a classic horror movie. Yet in spite of what’s on paper, this ‘end-of-the-world’ thriller is a dull slog of a movie. Almost nothing here works outside of some striking cinematography. Just about everything else here feels tedious. Somehow a lot of talented people came together to make a derivative, forgettable apocalyptic horror movie. Maybe End of Days was stupid, but at least it had a bit of a pulse.