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College freshman Cassandra "Cassie" steps into a nightmare of otherworldly visitations after surviving a devastating car accident. Haunted by a grim reaper of a far different kind, her only hope is to cling to chance encounters with her lost love Sean and the aid of a mysterious young priest named Father Jude. It is the spirit of Sean, her soul mate, who guides her to love, but it is her friends Matt, Annabel and Annabel's morose friend Raven who try to draw her to the dark side. Written by
Derivative Psychological Thriller Posing as Teen Horror
Like a relative that gives you a bad gift, Soul Survivors has its heart in the right place but trips up with a bad execution. Stephen Carpenter's writing/directing effort borrows freely from other, better films, such as Jacob's Ladder and Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). For those who haven't seen either of these films, I won't give the premise away; suffice to say it's not nearly as well handled here than in those two superior films.
Melissa Sagemiller stars as Cassie, about to go away to college. Her current boyfriend Sean (Ben Affleck) and ex-boyfriend Matt (Wes Bentley), both friends, and Annabel (acerbic Eliza Dushku) are in a car accident after being pursued by two killers (?) in transparent masks. She survives the wreck, but while attending college has visions of the hospital ordeal and dead people reappear and disappear, leaving her in a state of total confusion: who is dead? Who's alive? What's real?
Soul Survivors has the look of a bad been-there, done-that, gore-filled, blood-splattered, body-stacking teen exploitation flick. True, it has its share of killer-stalking-the-victim scenes (plentiful, repetitive, and mind-numbing), but at least it attempts to build suspense through ideas rather than cliches, unfortunately rather unsuccessfully. It breeds confusion much more often than cohesion, as the story becomes jumbled, messy and incoherent near key points of the mystery (predictable as it is.)
Horror fans who pick up a copy will have no idea they are in for a film that is more concerned with building an uneasy facade of reality than delivering a body count. Credit goes to Carpenter for attempting to create something beyond a derivative teen horror flick; too bad he's created a derivative psychological thriller. Sagemiller also deserves kudos for showing strength in the central performance, actually developing her character and evoking some sense of emotion as the unraveling Cassie. It's great the filmmakers try something different, but the film ends up a mixed bag and failed experiment.
4 out of 10
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