Soul Survivors

Title: Soul Survivors
Rating: R
Release Date: March, 2002
Running Time: approximately 85 minutes
Ten-second Rundown: After losing her boyfriend in a car accident, a college freshman is stalked by two killers and the ghost of her love.
Version: The Killer Cut!

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Select Scene commentary by Melissa Sagemiller
  • "Behind The Deathmask: The Making of Soul Survivors"
  • "Living Dangerously: The Art of Harvey Danger"
  • Animated Storyboards
  • cast and crew bios
  • Theatrical trailers & preview trailers
  • 3 different interactive menu experiences

    Choice Scene:Eliza Dushku and Melissa Sagemiller paint each other. Got your attention, didn't it?

    Tech Specs: Widescreen, aspect ratio 16:9, English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, English Dolby Stereo Surround 2.0, Spanish subtitles.

    In its opening moment, Soul Survivors appears to be a run-of-the-mill teen slasher film. A young co-ed walks down a windswept, empty, moonlit street. Out of the corner of her eye, she spies a dark-clad masked stalker. They speed up their dance of fate, ending with her stabbed in a stylishly expanding pool of her own blood.

    But as the included behind the scenes documentary will tell you over and over, Soul Survivors is not a slasher film; it's a psychological thriller. Or at least it wants to be. (Though the blood-red subtitle The Killer Cut does not bode well for finely-crafted suspense.) It also wants to be a half-dozen other things, and though this DVD release is entertaining, it's for few of the things it intends to be.

    Hello? Where's your lead character?
    Though you'd never know it from the materials here, Soul Survivors was a troubled production. Delayed in its theatrical release a couple of times, mostly due to skittishness over its violent content, the movie sports a lead actress who in all advertising is downplayed if not removed entirely. Never a good sign.

    The finished movie does have a tremendous earnestness. What it lacks is subtlety, and in some places, even coherence. (Who actually gets killed in that opening scene, for instance, never really gets resolved, nor does it necessarily matter.) What you will glean is this: on the night before they leave for college, Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) and her friends party at a goth club, get into a fight, and then an accident that leaves her boyfriend Sean (Casey Affleck) dead. Or does it?

    Weeks after the accident, as Cassie tries to get through the already stressful freshman year, Sean keeps popping up, looking really soulful and understanding. As if that weren't enough, she also thinks she's being stalked by a weirdly masked man and his hulking Native American sidekick. Whoever he is, he's more Michael Myers than Lone Ranger. Occasionally, too, Cassie hallucinates blood coming out of drains, mirrors, and her own nose.

    Her friends try to be understanding. Ex-boyfriend Matt (Wes Bentley) quits Harvard to help her through, though of course he has ulterior motives involving nudity. And Annabel (Eliza Dushku) just wants to party on, occasionally jealous of Matt's closeness to Cassie, and occasionally involved in hot lesbian grope sessions with the mysterious Raven (Angela Featherstone). Sorry. I just ruined a surprise. Actually, what's more surprising is that despite mocking Raven's lesbianism just before the accident, Cassie is stunned to discover that she's a woman.

    Dream logic is difficult to pull off, and instead of being dreamy here, everything is just disjointed.

    That may be the fault of editing. Though the film has a lot of style, it lacks in substance. According to the box, The Killer Cut has restored blood, sex, and terror, but not any sense. Even then, it only clocks in at 85 minutes, and that has a lot of uneven pacing. Somebody chopped this film up for reasons other than to get that theatrical PG-13 rating. (The video version is R.) Let us suspect someone other than the writer/director, Stephen Carpenter, whose presence has been all but obliterated from this package. His name remains in the credits, but in the extras, he is not even mentioned in the cast and crew information.

    Joe Quesada got to "dance" with her, too.
    Where Carpenter might have had some interesting insight, we get leading lady Sagemiller offering commentary on five scenes. None of it gets any deeper than "…it was fun dancing with Eliza in this scene." When she does try, it just makes her sound ignorant. Discussing Luke Wilson's role as a kindly yet mysterious priest, Sagemiller offers, "Father Jude is like the patron of travelers in Catholic mythology." If any Catholics are reading this, feel free to write in.

    But her naivete almost redeems the whole thing, because it's just silly to have a first-time film actress be the only person expounding on the filmmaking process. She repeats herself in the "making of" featurette, where all the young actors come off a little twitty. (Except for Dushku, who has managed to create a tough girl persona that works believably "behind the scenes," too.) Bentley can be somewhat forgiven, as he shot all this before he made American Beauty.

    Buried in the extras is a clever short called Living Dangerously - The Art of Harvey Danger. In the spirit of recent Spinal Tap appearances, the band Harvey Danger claims that Artisan misrepresented themselves to the band and stole their idea for a film called Soul Survivors. They didn't realize they'd been snookered by Hollywood until two minutes into the premiere, when the soundtrack shifted to some other band's music. Still, they are bound and determined to do it their way, which is, of course, as a bad rock musical. As a promotional tool, it worked, because I've since become interested in the band Harvey Danger.

    Artisan has put together a decent package with what they could. (Though they pad it with a choice of three different interfaces -- "Reality, "Dream," or "Nightmare." It's like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland: they're promising you a different ride each time, but they lie.) Not quite a silk purse, this might still make a fun rental. And if you do, please explain to me who the heck got killed at the beginning and why I should care.

    Derek McCaw

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