Lost Souls

Lost Souls (2000)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Winona Ryder, John Hurt, Ben Chaplin
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew Biographies

With the wealth of information available to us from various media outlets today, film fans have more knowledge at their disposal than ever. Therefore, we know when a film is announced, when it begins shooting, when shooting is completed, and when it’s going to be released. Therefore, when the public know that a film has been completed, but it never seems to show up, that is usually an indicator that something has gone wrong. Such was the case with New Line’s "Lost Souls". The film sat on the shelf for over a year before being released. (I can remember when New Line announced that if "Final Destination" were a success, it would indicate that the public was ready for a supernatural horror film, which in turn would allow them to consider releasing "Lost Souls") Eventually (Friday the 13th, no less), "Lost Souls" did make it into theatres and met with ambivalence from audiences and disdain from critics. But, now that the film is coming to DVD, we may learn that "Lost Souls" may be more than first meets the eye.

Winona Ryder stars in "Lost Souls" as Maya, a young woman who, years ago, was possessed by an evil spirit, but was saved through an exorcism. Maya now works with the Catholic church as a teacher, but also assists Father Lareaux (John Hurt) and Deacon John Townsend (Elias Koteas) with exorcisms. As the film opens, we see Maya and her associates attempting to perform an exorcism on Henry Birdson (John Diehl), against the wishes of pyschiatrist Dr. Allen (an uncredited Alfre Woodard). After the exorcism, which doesn’t end very prettily, Maya finds some notes that Birdson had been writing in a numerical code. After deciphering the code, Maya discovers that the writings point to a man named Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin).

Kelson is a journalist who writes novels about famous murderers and their trials. He has a beautiful girlfriend (Sarah Wynter), and a loving family in his brother William (W. Earl "Beans and Franks!" Brown) and his Uncle James (Philip Baker Hall), who is a priest. Kelson appears to have a perfect life, but Maya’s premonitions tell things are not what they seem to be.

"Lost Souls" is an unusual film, as it seems to exist in two different worlds. The synopsis above describes the plot of the film, and yet the film is quite lacking in story. For that reason, I really didn’t enjoy the film. The audience is told bits and pieces of what’s going on, but it’s nearly an hour before we learn why Maya is interested in Kelson. (I went into "Lost Souls" knowing basically nothing about the plot, so I became a bit frustrated waiting for the story to show up.) And while certainly things are explained explicitly, other plot devices never seem to go anywhere. For example, the fact that Maya was once possessed ends up having little to do with the film. And the numerical code, which is exploited in the opening credits, is only a very small part of the film. To add insult to injury, the film’s ending is incredibly weak. The plot, a twist on "The Final Conflict" is quite interesting, but it doesn’t get the support that it needs.

And while the story comes and goes in the film, there’s a noticeable lack of emotion in "Lost Souls". By way of comparison, despite the fact that the audience knows what’s happening, when Gregory Peck discovers the "666" in "The Omen", the scene is very emotional. But, there are some similar scenes in "Lost Souls" that really have no impact whatsoever on the viewer. Also, we just don’t get a clear-cut view of who Kelson is. His personality changes from scene-to-scene. Actually, it wasn’t until I viewed one of the deleted scenes on the DVD that I began to realize that the audience was supposed to view Peter as a nice guy.

However, "Lost Souls" is a film that is more about experience, than story. The film was directed by Janusz Kaminski, who served as director of photography on "Saving Private Ryan", "The Lost World", and "Schindler’s List" (and also "Cool as Ice", but we won’t go there.) While Kaminski didn’t seem to absorb Spielberg’s gift for storytelling, he has certainly formed an interesting visual style. The look of the film can only be described as dark… very dark. The entire film looks like the scene in "Se7en" where the "gluttony" murder is found. The film was treated to a process similar to that used in "Saving Private Ryan", where the picture appears to almost be black-and-white. "Lost Souls" is full of quick cuts and unusual angles, keeping the viewer constantly on edge. The film also boasts a powerful sound design, which only adds to the powerful visuals. While Kaminski never shows any specific "supernatural" events, there are some shots that are very creepy. "Lost Souls" isn’t a case of style over substance, or vice-versa. It’s a strange hybrid where a potentially compelling story doesn’t live up to it’s promise, but the elaborate visual style of the film and the remarkable amount of atmosphere created by that style forces the viewer to stick with the movie.

"Lost Souls" arrives on DVD from New Line Home Video. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. Well, due to the unusual look of the film, it’s a bit hard to discuss this transfer. The image is very clear and sharp, but there is a noticeable amount of grain. One can assume that this grain is a deliberate by-product of the process used to achieve the film’s look. (Note that the deleted scenes don’t have this grain.) And you can forget about the investment that you’ve made in that fancy color TV, because it won’t make much difference with "Lost Souls". As mentioned above, the majority of the film basically appears to be nearly black-and-white. And unlike "Sleepy Hollow", which was shot in a similar fashion, there aren’t scenes of bright colors to break up the monotony. This is not to imply that there are no colors in the film, there are, but they are generally very muted, such as the dark green doors in the bathroom in Chapter 7. The transfer may conform to the director’s wishes, but some viewers may not be happy with the grain.

The audio on the "Lost Souls" DVD is very impressive, as we are treated to a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and a <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>. For a perfect example of the quality audio in this film, simply go to the 54:58 mark and witness A) how good the surround sound is, and B) how the audio is used to enhance the impact of the film. The audio on "Lost Souls" treats us to a great deal of surround sound use, offering a wide soundfield and accurate screen/speaker placement of the sound effects. The musical cues and supernatural sound effects fill the room, adding to the effect of the film. The dialogue is clear and audible and there is no hiss on the track. While both soundtracks sound great, the DTS track does add a bit more depth and ambience.

Despite the fact that it isn’t a "Platinum Edition", the "Lost Souls" DVD does offer a few extra features. We start with the <$commentary,commentary track> with features director Janusz Kaminski and director of photography Mauro Fiore (who has worked with Michael Bay, which explains his comfort with the rapid editing.) As can be assumed, with a cinematographer turned director and a present cinematographer doing the commentary, the discussion gets very technical at times. But, Kaminski tries to interject information into each scene as to what he felt was happening in the story and why he chose to film the movie in a certain way. He does discuss his personal history with horror films, and the style that he chose for "Lost Souls". While this commentary is by no means dynamic, it is interesting and will be of particular interest to those who enjoy hearing about the technical aspects of filmmaking.

The special features section also includes five deleted scenes and five alternate takes. While the alternate takes don’t reveal any new information, four of the five deleted scenes prove to be very interesting. There are what I like to call "James Cameron" deleted scenes. They are very short, and wouldn’t have made the movie much longer, but would’ve added a great deal to the story. We are also treated to the theatrical trailer for "Lost Souls", and rounding out the special features are cast & crew filmographies. In addition, kudos must go to Nighjar, LLC for designing the highly effective DVD menus.

"Lost Souls" is a film that lives up to its name, as it appears to be lost in a sort of creative purgatory. The promising story about demonic possession gets lost along the way, but the film’s intense visuals almost save the film. The DVD of "Lost Souls" brings us an unusual looking transfer, but offers fantastic audio. While "Lost Souls" may have gotten lost on the way to the theatre, fright film fans looking for something with an artsy flavor may want to check it out. That is, if the notion possesses you.