Sometimes thriller and horror flicks are so boring from the first minute that your wanders, and you begin to formulate possible endings drawn from the mental vault of the Severely Ludicrous and/or the Highly Predictable. But one of the true marks of a bottom of the barrel, kick you in the groin awful movie is when one of those theoretical endings based in the absurd actually comes to pass. Soul Survivors, hands down the worst movie I've seen to date this year, is one such movie, beginning with a dreary, unengaging opener and ending with a foolish, transparent conclusion.
Soul Survivors purports to be a dark, supernatural thriller that shows what happens when "the world of the dead collides with the world of the living." This interesting premise, done with infinitely more finesse and achievement in The Others, is immediately muddled by uninteresting characters bumbling through a slasher movie backdrop. From the first scene, we're introduced to a cast of characters so boring that they make their counterparts in Scream 3 look like fascinating personality studies: Eliza Dushku is once again the tough, flirtatious bad girl skank (the persona she duplicates in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Faith to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back's Sissy the Jewel Thief); Melissa Sagemiller, the star of the show, is the typical good girl; and Wes Bentley is the average one-dimensional ex-boyfriend who has no story of his own.
But as aimless and lackluster as all these characters are, Casey Affleck steals the top prize for Most Coma-Inducing Actor ever. He takes a character that is already boring and makes him even more boring by delivering all the lines in his typical slack-jawed, emotionless manner. Is Ben Affleck's little brother angry? Sad? Happy? Who the hell knows--he plays every emotion as if he's dosed out on Ritalin. If there were a scale that measured ability to emote, with over-actors Robin Williams and Jim Carrey at 100 and an eggplant at 0, Casey Affleck would be at least a -10. This kid makes even MTV's Carson Daly look interesting.
Soul Survivors strikes out with its story just as much as with its cast. When Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), Sean (Casey Affleck), Annabel (Eliza Dushku), and Matt (Wes Bentley) get into a major car accident, Cassie begins to hallucinate a wide range of morbid images--everything from her dead boyfriend Sean to mysterious strangers she believes are out to hurt her. The movie jumps between two worlds: Cassie's post-accident life on a college campus and the moment of the tragedy in which she was in the emergency room of a hospital. This haphazard back-and-forth storytelling that worked so well in Jacob's Ladder is executed with severe incompetence here: in Soul Survivors, it quickly becomes tiresome, and ultimately reveals the movie's mystery far too soon. And instead of intelligently disorienting audiences, it takes the easier road of outright confusion, throwing nonsense into the mix and making things overtly evil for the simple sake of trying to be horrific.
Is our heroine Cassie alive? Is she dead? Is she in limbo? The movie's ability to make its audience question reality is so utterly lacking, that the answer is perfectly clear throughout most of the film. As such, the ending can hardly be considered a "surprise" or "twist."
Soul Survivors is cinematic deterioration before your very eyes. By the first ten minutes, it's already boring. After 30 minutes, it's idiotic. And by the 60-minute mark, it gets downright redundant: Cassie walks alone in a dark area, someone chases her, she eludes her assailant, she rants hysterically to her friends, and they think she is crazy. This little scenario plays out again, and again, and again, and again...by the second time this tiresome routine reruns, audiences simply forfeit whatever little emotional investment they might have had in Cassie.
In its entire run, Soul Survivors manages to scrounge up a small handful of modestly interesting scenes. In one of the first scenes that hints that something is not right, Cassie looks into a mirror, and the camera cuts to an image of goth freaks she met at a nightclub for a split-second. In another scene, Cassie is taking a test when she notices the questions on her exam beginning to mimic the world of her hallucinations.
Luke Wilson has a small role as everyone's friendly neighborhood priest who dishes out soul searching advice to the campus co-eds. But when the mystery of his appearance is revealed, it screams "rip off!"
Ultimately, Soul Survivors is a badly acted, unoriginal, irritating movie that apes Jacob's Ladder and The Sixth Sense with a total lack of skill. And in a misguided attempt to give it its own flavor, it adds the atmosphere of a teen slasher flick, making it that much the weaker. Easily one of the worst films of 2001, it should be avoided at virtually all cost.
Rating: 1.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)