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Island of Lost Souls (2008)
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by Jay Seaver

"See, it's GOOD for your kids to be into the occult!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: I hate to bring up Harry Potter when describing "Island of Lost Souls", but there wouldn't be so many movies of this type - kids fighting supernatural threats - if it wasn't such a phenomenon, and it is an easy point of reference. Nikolaj Arcel's taken on the idea is maybe not so grandiose as the most well-known, but it is still a ton of fun, and better in some ways.

14-year-old Lulu (Sara Langebæk Gaarmann) and her little brother Sylvester (Lucas Munk Billing) have just moved to the quiet seaside town of Broby with their mother Beate (Anette Støvelbæk) after her divorce. Lulu's got a keen interest in magic and the occult, and one of the first thing she does is pull out her Ouija board and see if the new house contains any spirits who would like to talk to her. It doesn't seem to have much effect, but later that night a glowing light comes out of their closet and is absorbed into Sylvester. It turns out to be the soul of Herman Hartmann, who in 1871 was part of a secret lodge dedicated to fighting supernatural evil. And while Herman mainly wants to return to the sweet oblivion of death, he's stuck in Sylvester's body unless some sort of mystic can be found to release him. 13-year-old neighbor Oliver (Lasse Borg) suggests his mother's "psychic physical therapist", Ricard (Nicolaj Kopernikus), who turns out to be surprisingly helpful.

There are a lot of things I like about Island of Lost Souls that other juvenile fantasies don't do, to their detriment by my way of thinking. One of them is that Lulu is not any sort of Chosen One, descendant of the mystics from the prologue, or prophesied savior; she's just a brave and smart girl who steps up when stepping up is called for. Sure, it's a nice fantasy that you're secretly more special and important than the other kids around you, but the fact that these kids do cool things on their own makes them even more impressive.

The movie is also populated by an enjoyably quirky cast. Martin, for instance, is a suicidal nineteenth-century mystic trapped in the body of a ten-year-old boy; Lucas Munk Billing is kind of hilarious in how he goes from Sylvester, who is the kind of loud kid that would naturally annoy Lulu, to the hilariously dour-faced Martin (who quickly develops a taste for cola). Nearly every joke about long-dead souls possessing modern people is pretty dead-on, in fact. Sara Langebæk Gaarmann does a nice job in the lead; most kids would probably think of Lulu as the weird girl if they met her at school, although Gaarmann plays her as normal enough that she doesn't come across as a stereotype. The rest of the characters are played pretty straightforward - wimpy Oliver, for instance, seems to be afraid of everything; Ricard is shocked that there's anything useful about his interest in the paranormal - but not so much that they become one-note parodies.

The action is necessarily a bit smaller than something coming out of Hollywood, but the special effects they do use are executed very well: There are nifty scarecrow and shadow monsters, for instance, and part of the fun is the technology Ricard has cobbled together to detect paranormal activity. There's a kind of low-rent Ghostbusters vibe to it, and the big last-act battle with the necromancer winds up being a gas. The movie's humor is pretty kid-friendly, but also often very dry.

Like most family adventures, "Island of Lost Souls" ends with the potential for more. I don't know if that will wind up happening, but it certainly wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17610&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/20/08 16:59:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 18-Dec-2008

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