Soul Survivors (2001) Zero stars.
Written and directed by Steve Carpenter. Photography, Fred Murphy. Editing, Janice Hampton, Todd Ramsay. Production design, Larry Fulton. Music, Daniel Licht. Produced by Neal H. Moritz and Stokely Chaffin. Cast: Casey Affleck (Sean), Wes Bentley (Matt), Eliza Dushku (Annabel), Angela Featherstone (Raven), Melissa Sagemiller (Cassie) and Luke Wilson (Father Jude). An Artisan release. 85 minutes. PG-13
It is no shattering news that Hollywood movie-makers as well as so many of the "independents" do their stuff for a public of actual as well as continuing teen-agers whose film tastes are in a prolonged state of puberty.
Lack of cinematic sophistication --even minimal-- brings in the crowds and the box office millions of dollars, pounds, euros, zlotys, rubles, drachmas, lire, pesetas, etc. There ought to be a fund for recompensing those film critics who have to sit, suffer through and write about so much detritus.
Steve Carpenter who committed "Soul Survivors" was the third --in pecking order--of the three writers of "Blue Streak" (1999), which I have not seen. That's all I could find out on Mr. Carpenter, except that "SS" is the first movie he has directed, and that it was shot in or near Chicago.
The plot is an exponentially growing muddle from the start. It is college time, but so far as the principals are concerned, who is a freshman and who is going to school is anyone's guess. In an SUV are Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller, she of vaguely Gwyneth Paltrow looks), her new (how news?) boyfriend Sean (Casey Affleck), he former b.f. Matt (Wes Bentley), her friend Annabel (Eliza Dushku) who is now Matt's g.f.
They are driving to the two girls' eastern college. Matt will continue on to Harvard. Sean seems to be there for the ride. Or what? He still has feelings for Cassie, who in turn ...well, let's skip this. Annabel is a flibbertiggibet. That's one of the words of the "Gone With the Wind" movie era. It meant more or less today's term "airhead."
On the way to Higher Education they spot somewhere what looks like the ruins of a church within which a huge crowd of youths (the focus is mostly on beautiful girls) are having a rave where they drink, dance, are merry and presumably take mind-blowing substances.
They are so packed that their dancing consists only of bobbing up and down as on unseen pogo-sticks. Annabel talks her companions to join the sardines. We glimpse two non-dancers who look sinister, grown men of whom one wears a mask. Our four youths interact with one another. Those sequences last about 20 interminable minutes. I'll skip the details.
Back on the highway, as Cassie drives the SUV, there's a two-car accident. Sean dies. Cassie is hurt but recovers (???). The movie now gets a narrow focus on her, her despair, her feelings of guilt, the realization that she still loves Sean. To help her recover Matt skips Harvard. Annabel behaves flightily and lesbianly. Cassie has weird close encounters. Increasingly odd things happen to her, including the two men from the rave chasing her, a youngish priest offering spiritual consolation, visions, sudden and profuse hemorrages, etc. etc. etc. and more etc. Best/worst of all, Cassie meets Sean, in the flesh, no less.
The list gets exponentially confused, confusing, incoherent, dull, stupid and like an endless anthology of horror-movie and supernatural-flick cliches.
By now, I suppose that the only other spectator at the plex I saw this item was yawning as much as I was. I also suppose that faced with this mess, just like me, he said to him/herself " Aha! I get it! It's all one long nightmare!"
Which is absolutely correct. This becomes official in the last, hurried, tacked-on minutes which can be described only as a gigantic cop-out or as something the cat dragged in.
There are good movies, bad movies, and good bad movies. This one is a bad bad movie. It will not survive.