by Greg Muskewitz
As a youth, Eliza Dushku was a talented actress that grabbed my attention instantaneously in That Night. After some other small, low-key roles, she turned up on TV’s “Buffy,” which I don’t watch, but then also in the cheerleading flick Bring It On. It was almost as if Dushku had started with a tabula rasa, but her talent was surely something that many actors of her generation are lacking. Following that resurgence, her name has been popping up all over lately, and in some disagreeable places.Some time back, before this had pushed further into the year for release (it was previewed with Dracula 2000 last year), I already had some concerns to the quality and possibility of this being any good. Crappy teen schlock seemed to have been on the way out, and since Dushku had seemed to be absent during all that time, it seemed nice that should would have missed getting involved altogether. With her well-received return (the critics seem to find her amiable, and the audiences—male audiences—certainly have been proven to fawn over her), why would she choose an ignominious project like Soul Survivors or the dumb-looking teen comedy The New Guy that has already been postponed at least once?
The result of Soul Survivors was much worse that I ever could have expected: an insipid and incoherent thriller about four teenagers going off to college, but falling into occultic events after an accident in which one of them was killed. Based off of early observations of bizarrity, stupidity, incoherence and inexplicability, it was pretty obvious that part, if not all, of what was happening to the main female protagonist (not Dushku, who’s most prominently centered on the poster, but rather Melissa Sagemiller) had to be a dream or nightmare of sorts. Naturally, during the closing moments when it is revealed that everything after the accident was a dream, it ergo negates the whole movie and deems it worthless, which it already was in the first place. It is unacceptable in novels and films when they introduce all sorts of impossible, inexplicable occurrences that leads up to a climax that can’t be met, and then weasels its way out of an explanation by saying it was all fake, all a dream. Few examples of books and movies have transcended that ability—this being no exception—to actively and creatively build or manipulate from the dream-state, so by using that “all a dream” device as a fall back rather than a springboard, it does nothing to help the case. (See Audition for an incomparable take on the dream trick.)
Steve Carpenter takes credit for writing and directing this jumbled botch, showing no technique or style, but just that he can easily and obsequiously ante up to all the hacks that came before him. (Carpenter’s idea of style: an aversion to nearly all daylight at all times.) His dialogue is absolutely ridiculous and stupid; nothing intelligent, plain or comprehensible comes out of their mouths at any time. Plot coincidences and embellishments are equally as preposterous: Take for example the soft-core bs of the characters rubbing each other down with paint for recreational fun, or the fact that as Sagemiller aimlessly wonders the deserted streets in the middle of the night during an unassigned month, several kids happen to “pop out” dressed up in Halloween costumes, unattended to by adults—just to provide one more opportunity not only to get a rise out of her, but unsuccessfully to get one out of us. How else can any of that be explained or validated other than to claim the “dream” escape?!
The only one good thing that came of Soul Survivors was that it reinforced the strong and talented impression that Melissa Sagemiller left on me in Get Over It. That, too, was not something that deserved her quality of performance, but it was a start, a foot in the door, a call to arms, and at least it got my attention. I only hope that she will take the higher road, that someone else will recognize her talent and place it better in context. As for Dushku, once she gets this crap out of her system, I hope that she, too, will seek out better roles that showcase her talents, because this was nothing more than embarrassing. (Jay and Silent Bob… was but a glimpse of fluffy fun, but nothing to fuss about or look upon as serious work.)
With Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Luke Wilson (pointless, stupid role) and Angela Featherstone (absolutely humiliating role).Final Verdict: F.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4701&reviewer=172
originally posted: 10/06/01 15:58:36