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On the horns of a dilemma: How to stop the devil?

Review: Even Satan cannot redeem dumb 'Lost Souls'


October 13, 2000
Web posted at: 4:39 p.m. EDT (2039 GMT)

In this story:

Priests prowling for perfidy

Story stumbles


(CNN) -- The latest film entry into the devil-made-me-do-it sweepstakes is the psychological thriller "Lost Souls," starring Winona Ryder.

It's a losing entry, too, in spite of 28-year-old Ryder's beautiful and waif-like presence and a strong effort from her co-star, British actor Ben Chaplin.

Yet another story about the devil taking over the world, the film starts out strongly, but quickly loses its way in the morass of its own hocus-pocus.

This movie was completed in 1998. And despite the studio's usual laundry list of excuses for not releasing it until now, there's a reason it's been sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

It's not the acting, or the stunning visual style of Oscar-winning cinematographer-turned-director Janusz Kaminski that puts the pitchfork in this film. No, it's mostly the ludicrous script by first-time screenwriter Pierce Gardner that kills it.

Priests prowling for perfidy

Ryder plays Maya Larkin, a wistful young woman who, for some unexplained reason, is highly susceptible to demonic possession -- an inconvenience, to say the least.

However, her life was saved by her deep Catholic faith when, at an early age, she was pulled from the gnarly grip of the devil himself by Father Lareaux (John Hurt). He became her protector and mentor.

He's more than that, though. Lareaux also is the ringleader of a small group of priests who believe Satan will incarnate in the near future by taking possession of a human being, thereby plunging the world into everlasting fire and brimstone. The Catholic church, though hardly amused with this renegade theory, does little to stop them in their holy quest to prevent Old Scratch from turning up the heat worldwide.

The church even grants this gang of religious rare permission to perform an exorcism on Henry Birdson (John Diehl), a sociopath who murdered his family. But things go very wrong (what, exactly, is unknown, since the procedure takes place off camera), and Lareaux is badly injured.

But before Birdson goes into a convenient coma, he reveals a numeric code that contains the name of the man whose body Satan is poised to inhabit. Larkin may be frail of body, but her intellect seems to be just fine; she cracks the code in nothing flat.

Enter mild-mannered Peter Kelson (Chaplin), who writes books about notoriously brutal criminals convicted of heinous murders. Kelson's parents were murdered when he was a young child, hence his fascination with evil. He and his older brother, William (W. Earl Brown), were raised by their uncle James (Philip Baker Hall), who just happens to be a Catholic priest.

Movie trailer for 'Lost Souls'

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Kelson also is a marked man. Satan, according to the code, has designs on his body and soul.

As you may imagine, he's more than a bit skeptical when Larkin and her boys in black track him down and give him the unhappy news: He's the antichrist in training. Sloooooowwwwly he comes around and believes that the devil does have him in his evil sights. From that point, he and Larkin face enormous obstacles as they race the clock to prevent the transformation.

Story stumbles

This movie obviously wants to be in the same category as "The Exorcist" (1973) or "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), but barely manages to be just marginally better than the dreadful "End Of Days" or the equally odorous "Stigmata." Both bombs were dropped on undeserving audiences last year.

To call this film relentlessly derivative would be an understatement. It wants to be chilling and scary, but it's barely coherent and merely creepy at its best. This genre of devil possession has been around for more than two decades, and this flick brings nothing new to that now-tired concept.

The cinematography by Mauro Fiore is stylishly flawless, with its practically black-and-white, grainy look. This isn't surprising, since the film's first-time director has won Academy Awards for his camera work on two of Steven Spielberg's greatest works, "Schindler's List" (1993) and "Saving Private Ryan" (1998).

The Spielberg connection goes deeper, too. Kaminski is married to actress Holly Hunter -- whom he met on a blind date arranged by Spielberg. His use of the camera is without fault. However, he still needs to learn a few things about story structure and pacing.

Ryder and Chaplin seem to have screen chemistry (which is more than can be said for her recent stint with costar Richard Gere in the sappy "Autumn In New York"), but that alone can't save this aimless, meaningless film.

One interesting note: Actor James Lancaster plays a small role as Father Jeremy. He also played the priest who goes down with the ship in "Titanic" (1997), praying with terrified passengers as the vessel slips beneath the waves. Artistically speaking, this time he's really on a sinking ship.

"Lost Souls" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated R. 102 minutes.

Lost Souls

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