“6 SOULS” (Movie Review)
One could argue that the goal for any horror or thriller filmmaker is to keep the audience, at the very least, figuring out the story’s twists and turns alongside the protagonist. As wonderful as it is for genre films to stay one step ahead of the audience, ensuring that any surprises along the way are surprising at all, the mechanisms by which suspenseful films run—tension between characters, atmosphere and gradual revelation of story—can still work well when viewers encounter the dread and shock at the same pace as the hero they have invested in.
But when the plot twists and turns become convoluted and nonsensical, a movie can become even more frustrating as the protagonist doesn’t question the circumstances of the story. Sure, the situations he or she confronts may be dire, but that still leaves the question: How can you defeat evil if you don’t understand evil?
This question lingers rather prominently in the third act of 6 SOULS (formerly and more appropriately titled SHELTER, and hitting VOD today and theaters April 5 from Radius-TWC after a few years on the shelf), which is all the more disappointing since the intriguing first two acts are worthy of a full recommendation. 6 SOULS follows Dr. Cara Harding (Julianne Moore), a psychoanalyst with a reputation for debunking cases of multiple personality disorder, as she takes a case from her father (Jeffrey DeMunn) that may be beyond rational explanation. The story begins simply enough as a cat-and-mouse game between Cara and her new patient’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seemingly unwavering personalities, but as she digs deeper and deeper into the past, she realizes that the case hits close to home. To say anything more would diverge into spoiler territory, which Michael Cooney’s script handles efficiently within the first two-thirds before the desperation of an undeveloped conclusion sets in to throw the film off the rails.
6 SOULS’ first hour or so would not be nearly as effective without the strengths of its superb cast. Despite some inspired visuals, much of the camerawork seems to be straight from the horror-filmmaking textbooks, utilizing a saturated blue-and-yellow color scheme accompanied by a sound design of cacophonous voices whenever creepiness is present. Luckily, directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (whose follow-up English-language film, UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, was released to successful returns last year) show substantial skill in their handling of the actors, resulting in stronger-than-expected performances from almost the entire ensemble.
Moore is absolutely terrific as Cara Harding, eliciting from her very first scene a character with a vulnerable history despite her knowledge of and confidence in her profession. Even during that problematic third act, Moore’s performance never approaches desperate or weak territory, maintaining a dedicated, delicate portrayal of the doctor’s internal debate even when confronted with the unexplainable. The film also benefits from a fully immersed Rhys Meyers, who handles every aspect of the patient’s “personalities” with a unique cadence and body language, and whose performance becomes admirably complex before being subdued by the unsatisfying climactic twists. Equally strong are Frances Conroy, inspired in a poorly written role, a wonderfully curious DeMunn and a fortunately grounded Nathan Corrdry as Cara’s brother. Even child actress Brooklynn Proulx as Cara’s daughter carries her weight amidst the suspense, especially in her earlier scenes and despite later being relegated to the all-too-familiar “child in danger” role.
However, despite the grasp on character and suspense built up during the first two acts, 6 SOULS is brought down when it becomes a different film entirely in the third and completely discards any character motivation it has cultivated to that point. The focus on the supernatural elements becomes a crutch that makes the movie conventional and confusing, and its inability to tie together the familial drama, the psychological intrigue and the macabre world of backwoods voodoo subvert all the strengths it has heretofore demonstrated. Factor in a woefully unexplained twist regarding the patient and a lack of focus on the methods by which his mind operates (especially considering the ability to revert him to a different personality via a phone call) and what was previously a fascinating, well-played look into the otherworldly via a woman’s internal faith-vs.-science debate becomes another generic supernatural showdown.
Despite its aggravating wrapup, 6 SOULS is still solid in its execution for the first 90 minutes or so, and the performances warrant a cautious recommendation. The movie works as a psychological thriller and even holds onto the reins when the supernatural elements begin coming to light, but even the terrific acting can’t save the hollow and disappointing ending. So do as the protagonists do, and don’t try to understand the evil of the film, and there’ll be a chance you’ll see the goodness within 6 SOULS.