Shout! Factory // 2012 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 27th, 2013
Don't go home.
Johnny Petrie (Jesse James, The Butterfly Effect; not Sandra Bullock's ex-husband) has grown up believing his ultra-religious and paranoid mother (Geraldine Hughes, Gran Torino) has raised him with his best interests at heart. On his eighteenth birthday, though, his life is changed with a call from a realtor who tells Johnny that he is the inheritor of a family estate. Against his mother's wishes, he travels out of state to claim the property and get some answers, only to find more questions in a town who clearly doesn't want him there. Slowly, he learns the dark secrets of a family he never knew...and who happens to have returned from the grave to claim his soul.
Like so many recent indie horror films, Dead Souls runs on the cheap, with a horrific past and a bunch of unseen ghosts that don't cost very much to commit to film. That's not a bad thing. I appreciate the efficiency in this kind of thinking, but a filmmaker has to inject some amount of originality into the story to make it work, which is where Dead Souls falters. The derivative uninteresting plot is dull and lifeless, and a total lack of bloodshed makes the whole thing pretty pointless.
The only interesting bits are the absurd questions that arise while watching the movie, like how a man is able to crucify himself alone in a barn? How does a pretty female squatter (Magda Apanowicz, Caprica) look freshly bathed at all times in a place with no electricity and water? I suppose questions like this are inherent in a lot of horror films, but when there's nothing else to hang your hat on, they tend to be problematic.
To be fair, the experience is not completely terrible. Director Colin Theys (Banshee!!!) develops some decent atmosphere out of his gothic setting, and there are a couple of jump scares that do work. We also get an appearance by horror mainstay Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D), giving fans a reason to check out the movie. But these few positives don't outweigh its dull and otherwise frightless story.
Dead Souls gets an average Blu-release from Shout! Factory. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very good, with sharp detail and clarity throughout and realistic colors across the board. There is a bit of flatness, but that has more to do with the camera being used than the transfer itself. The audio is genuinely good, with two strong mixes to choose from. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix is the weaker of the two, but still has good dynamic range for a two-channel mix. The Dolby 5.1 track is excellent, with good depth in all channels, nice spatial effects, and strong ambient atmosphere in the rear.
Bonus features are short and insubstantial, starting with a basic production commentary from director Theys, screenwriter John Doolan, and producer Andrew Gernhard, who could care less about being involved. Between brief discussions about what went on during the shoot, they complain about having to record this track. Seriously? We also get a blooper reel, a video tour of the set, and a couple of trailers. An underwhelming slate for an underwhelming film.
Dead Souls is derivative horror with an absurdly predictable story and lifeless performances. Though it does deliver a bit of atmosphere, there's not nearly enough to recommend the film. Trust me, there are plenty of better ghost movies to choose from.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated