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Lost Souls

Starring Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin
Screenplay by Pierce Gardner,
based on a story by Gardner and Betsy Stahl.
Directed by Janusz Kaminski

IN SHORT: Bible school helps. [Rated Rated R for violence/terror and some language. 102 minutes]

From our perspective, there's an old question that always snuck its way into debates about morality and ethics back when we were in Hebrew school: If you knew Adolf Hitler was going to unleash the atrocities he did upon the world, and you had the opportunity to kill him beforehand, while he was peddling painted landscapes in his native Austria, would you? Apply the same question to the Antichrist. And you've a description for Lost Souls in a nutshell.

The CrankyCritic Star Talk with Winona Ryder is more interesting than this flick. First time director Janusz Kaminski has picked up Oscar for his work as a cinematographer for Spielberg and while he doesn't double as DP, under his direction we get a ominously muted visual and an unsuspenseful story. That story, which is an amalgam of other plots from some of the scareflicks listed below, fails to reach even a simmering point of suspense, defeated by a ponderous score and camerawork/ photography reminiscent of an overpriced teevee commercial. It's mostly close-ups and ultra-closeups or slow tracking shots with a washed out palette and occasional burst of sunlight that overloads the film. These works great for the film's first sequence, an exorcism of convicted mass murderer Henry Birdson, (John Diehl). Once you get past that absolutely bang up opening, Lost Souls loses its own way quickly.

The quartet that perform the exorcism, to the utter dismay of the locked out psychiatric doctor in charge (Alfre Woodard) is composed of a trio of Roman Catholic priests led by Father Lareaux (John Hurt), and their secular assistant, Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder). Larkin's place in it all? She's been there done that ex-subject -- everything but spitting pea soup. While we are not privy to the intimate details of the performed rite, it does not go well. "Disaster" is the way Maya describes it. Lareaux falls into a something akin to a coma. Birdson grins contentedly and Maya walks away with a series of carefully coded pages written by the loon; columns of numbers that she will seek to decode as they contain the identity of the human that will be possessed by Satan to become the Antichrist.

And, darn, if the name she finds happens to match up with that of successful author Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin), a specialist in something he calls "malignant-narcissism," something which could easily become a scientific explanation for the demon-possession mysticism of the Church. Kelson is an extremely lapsed Catholic, despite his upbringing by his priestly uncle, Father James (Philip Baker Hall) after the murder of his parents. He's got a beautiful girlfriend (Sarah Wynter), a great life, and annoying neighbors who bang on the walls. But not for long, as all the people who unpleasantly affect his life start to die.

Maya and Deacon John Townshend (Elias Koteas) want to investigate the possibility that Kelson is the intended posessee, but the Church doesn't want to go there and vetoes their investigation. It isn't that the Church would object to slagging the A-C, it's just that the foursome's actions are sometimes embarrassing . . . and, of course, Maya starts the research anyway. Some of the members of the group don't feel that they should be sitting on such information. That, with "the transformation at hand," they should take action. We'll leave it at that.

Our lack of enthusiasm for Lost Souls has nothing to do with being MOT and thus way out of the religious universe in which this film occurs. We were scared silly by similar things in the past -- The Omen, Rosemary's Baby and once upon a time, The Exorcist -- so dropping Christian scares on this Hebrew head is no problem. But the script relies so heavily on Catholic dogma that we wonder if the non-Catholic Christians will be affected. We've always thought that simple is better. Good is Good. Evil is Bad. Other religious detail mucks things up. Those details are here and most of 'em are explained, but the film plods along so that they don't have the impact they should.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Lost Souls, he would have paid...


Rental level. The cinematography is quite nice. We shouldn't notice that above and beyond the storytelling. We did.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.