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One could argue that the goal for any horror or thriller
filmmaker is to keep the audience, at the very least, figuring out the story’s
twists and turns alongside the protagonist. As wonderful as it is for genre
films to stay one step ahead of the audience, ensuring that any surprises along
the way are surprising at all, the mechanisms by which suspenseful films
run—tension between characters, atmosphere and gradual revelation of story—can
still work well when viewers encounter the dread and shock at the same pace as
the hero they have invested in.
But when the plot twists and turns become convoluted and
nonsensical, a movie can become even more frustrating as the protagonist
doesn’t question the circumstances of the story. Sure, the situations he or she
confronts may be dire, but that still leaves the question: How can you defeat
evil if you don’t understand evil?
This question lingers rather prominently in the third act of
6 SOULS (formerly and more appropriately titled SHELTER, and hitting VOD today
and theaters April 5 from Radius-TWC after a few years on the shelf), which is
all the more disappointing since the intriguing first two acts are worthy of a
full recommendation. 6 SOULS follows Dr. Cara Harding (Julianne Moore), a
psychoanalyst with a reputation for debunking cases of multiple personality
disorder, as she takes a case from her father (Jeffrey DeMunn) that may be
beyond rational explanation. The story begins simply enough as a cat-and-mouse
game between Cara and her new patient’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seemingly
unwavering personalities, but as she digs deeper and deeper into the past, she
realizes that the case hits close to home. To say anything more would diverge
into spoiler territory, which Michael Cooney’s script handles efficiently
within the first two-thirds before the desperation of an undeveloped conclusion
sets in to throw the film off the rails.
6 SOULS’ first hour or so would not be nearly as effective
without the strengths of its superb cast. Despite some inspired visuals, much
of the camerawork seems to be straight from the horror-filmmaking textbooks,
utilizing a saturated blue-and-yellow color scheme accompanied by a sound
design of cacophonous voices whenever creepiness is present. Luckily, directors
Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (whose follow-up English-language film,
UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, was released to successful returns last year) show
substantial skill in their handling of the actors, resulting in
stronger-than-expected performances from almost the entire ensemble.
Moore is absolutely terrific as Cara Harding, eliciting from
her very first scene a character with a vulnerable history despite her
knowledge of and confidence in her profession. Even during that problematic
third act, Moore’s performance never approaches desperate or weak territory,
maintaining a dedicated, delicate portrayal of the doctor’s internal debate
even when confronted with the unexplainable. The film also benefits from a
fully immersed Rhys Meyers, who handles every aspect of the patient’s
“personalities” with a unique cadence and body language, and whose performance
becomes admirably complex before being subdued by the unsatisfying climactic
twists. Equally strong are Frances Conroy, inspired in a poorly written role, a
wonderfully curious DeMunn and a fortunately grounded Nathan Corrdry as Cara’s
brother. Even child actress Brooklynn Proulx as Cara’s daughter carries her
weight amidst the suspense, especially in her earlier scenes and despite later
being relegated to the all-too-familiar “child in danger” role.
However, despite the grasp on character and suspense built
up during the first two acts, 6 SOULS is brought down when it becomes a
different film entirely in the third and completely discards any character
motivation it has cultivated to that point. The focus on the supernatural
elements becomes a crutch that makes the movie conventional and confusing, and
its inability to tie together the familial drama, the psychological intrigue
and the macabre world of backwoods voodoo subvert all the strengths it has
heretofore demonstarted. Factor in a woefully unexplained twist regarding the
patient and a lack of focus on the methods by which his mind operates
(especially considering the ability to revert him to a different personality
via a phone call) and what was previously a fascinating, well-played look into
the otherworldly via a woman’s internal faith-vs.-science debate becomes
another generic supernatural showdown.
Despite its aggravating wrapup, 6 SOULS is still solid in
its execution for the first 90 minutes or so, and the performances warrant a
cautious recommendation. The movie works as a psychological thriller and even
holds onto the reins when the supernatural elements begin coming to light, but
even the terrific acting can’t save the hollow and disappointing ending. So do
as the protagonists do, and don’t try to understand the evil of the film, and
there’ll be a chance you’ll see the goodness within 6 SOULS.
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