“6 Souls”

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Group shots on the cover/poster are usually a good indicator of the relative degree of suck.

6 Souls is another head-scratcher. It could have been–ack, no. Just, see it, I guess. Or don’t. But either way, what it could have been isn’t really relevant. What it is is… meh.

Cara is a psychiatrist whose father, also a psychiatrist (or are they psychologists?), introduces her to an exciting patient: Adam, a guy who is apparently suffering from dissociative personality disorder (or whatever). She reluctantly sits down to question Adam, who was brought in by police and apparently remanded to Cara’s father’s care (do they do that?). Fortunatley Cara has a bag full of Rorschach blots and similar dohickeys, with which she eventually determines that Adam suffers from an acute case of TISWGO (There Is Something Weird Going On).

So, we ultimately learn that Adam is host to a bunch of discarnate souls, and that he was a bad person in a former life (or something) and this is his punishment, and he goes around, I dunno, collecting new souls, or something? And people die, and skeptical Julianne Moore comes to understand the folly of her skepticism, etc. etc.

The first three quarters of this movie aren’t bad. It’s a slow-paced but intriguing supernatural thriller, and I rather enjoyed it (though, in the interest of full disclosure, there may have been generous amounts of wine involved). Julianne Moore is predictably good, if not great, as the lead, Cara. In fact, the whole cast gives pretty good performances all around, from a wonderfully Dale-like performance by Jeffrey DeMunn (he’s Dale from The Walking Dead), and a surprisingly good (if very familiar) crazy/possessed bit by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

One complaint is that–and I’m going out on a limb here–I’m pretty sure this is not how anything works in real life.

Let me stop for a minute. That’s a hard thing to say when you’re talking about a supernatural thriller. I mean, if you’ve got ghosts and magic and whatnot, it’s difficult to support claims that other things seem “unrealistic” (I’m not making a statement of belief here, just acknowledging the general attitude towards these things in Western societies). But the reality is that going into a horror film (or whatever genre it is), you have certain expectations. You know, for instance, that there will be ghosts. That doesn’t mean the stuff that actually connects with your lived experience–the structure of US society, the laws and daily observances on which the country functions (for better or worse)–can just be ignored. I’ll accept ghosts, for example, as part of the narrative. I have a harder time accepting that practicing psychiatrists are able to run around all over the state breaking into people’s houses for information about decades-old crimes, faith healers from the early 20th century, and Appalachian granny magic, all with the blessings of the police.

All I’m saying is, a little bit more procedure would be appreciated. The Ring did it pretty well, I thought. Naomi Watts’ character was an investigative journalist who had a fair amount of freedom in terms of her job, but when she started to get out of line her editor reamed her out. She ignored him, of course; but the filmmakers at least gestured to the realities of social responsibility that would tend to get in the way even in the face of actual supernatural events.

All of that is really minor, though–and in fact is a complaint I could make against the majority of horror films. The bulk of 6 Souls is reasonably enjoyable. It’s not great, but it’s certainly better than the preposterous 4% it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes.

It could be the formulaic nature of the supernatural content to which critics reacted negatively. A few paragraphs ago I threw out a somewhat dismissive “etc, etc”, and that’s not an unfair assessment. As always, the protagonists are whitebread Americans who, though in this case nominally Catholic, are mostly skeptical to the supernatural. They must turn, in the end, to “the folk” for answers. This time around the folk are Appalachian hill people, and granny magic is the supernatural tradition du jour. On a certain level, I understand the frustration this kind of situation causes some critics. As with The Possession, the only novel thing here is that it’s referencing an under-explored, but genuinely existing, supernatural belief system (though I can’t comment on whether it does so accurately or not).

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Don’t go in there, Julianne Moore! Don’t you watch horror movies?! THERE ARE SCARY DRAWINGS ON THE DOOR!

It could also be the weirdly pro-Christian thing that comes through in the end (although I suspect this makes sense in the context of granny magic). There’s definitely something a little off-putting about that subgenre of horror/supernatural thrillers that basically tell you that God is not only real, but doesn’t approve of your shenanigans, so shape up or this shit will happen to you.

Or maybe it’s the fact that the bad guy, whose origins are clear enough, is apparently going around collecting souls (or some shit) for no clear reason. His motives are really not explained, and that’s particularly frustrating in a film that goes to great lengths to make sure we understand the cultural milieu from which its ideas (supposedly) spring.

There’s also a lot of incredibly cheap, sound-dependent jump-scares that just suck. I’m so sick of those. You can’t throw in a bunch of high-gain door-slams and generic squeaky-violin noises and call it a scary movie. Christ, please stop doing that, everyone. Thanks.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to be influenced by the negative reviews on RT. Despite that, I just talked myself out of giving this film a better review. Really though, I felt as though the first chunk was pretty good. Watch that part, maybe, and tell me what you think. Then, in the last half hour, take a break, drink some wine, then watch the rest. Then get back to me so we can compare notes.

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10 thoughts on ““6 Souls”

  1. Sounds like a bottle of vino is called for with this one. Still it sounds better than the book I just read – it was an extreme version of ‘if you don’t do what god wants – you will die screaming!’ It was hilariously bad – astronauts found the holy grail on the moon and the whole world just agreed to put the pope in charge and everyone became catholic – oh and all the Commies died of potato blight! I reviewed it for a friend who promotes indie authors – but then I refused to post the review because the book was so Xn fundamentalist in its views – otherwise I would have said read it because it would have been funny if it wasn’t so offensive!

    • That does sound pretty hilarious. Potato blight indeed! Mysterious ways and all that.

      The grail on the moon is pretty brilliant, though. I could see this becoming a big-budget film directed by Michael Bay with lots of explosions and girls sitting on car hoods.

      • OMG you MUST turn it into a one-act-play! Its called Gabriel’s Chalice. Oh, and it was so much more than just potato blight, anyone with an ‘alternative’ lifestyle had to just stop it -RIGHT NOW because God doesn’t like THAT kind of thing! No Sirreee!

      • INTERIOR: MOON CABARET

        The stage lights come up on Jeff, wearing a tophat and bedazzled spanks. He takes a drag on a cigarette, and starts singing his signature song, “We ain’t got no Holy Grails on the moon”.

      • Oh oh oh. I am going to Dr. Frankenfurter that shit up like mad. Fishnets and glitter everywhere.

        OH and the back up singers have to dress like giant ice cream cones! BUT GOD HELP YOU IF I SEE ANY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

  2. I love this part: “That doesn’t mean the stuff that actually connects with your lived experience–the structure of US society, the laws and daily observances on which the country functions (for better or worse)–can just be ignored.” Also, you make a good point about the formula of accessing superstitious subcultures for help in these movies. Too bad this is a bad movie, because it has a good cast. I don’t know why Hollywood can’t make decent high-budget ghost stories.

    • Thanks! Yeah, world-building is important in any fiction, and while the audience is willing to meet filmmakers more than half way, some things are just too silly to let slide. Of course, I’m not a psychologist. Maybe they really do gallop around the countryside righting supernatural wrongs. If so, I’m in the wrong field.

      You’re right about the cast. And weirdly, everybody gave a really good performance. But it was the narrative and the direction that were the major let-downs, and no amount of good acting can fix that.

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