Rated R - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 10/13/00

Every Halloween brings its share of spooky-ooky-ooky releases, and this year's current entry is Janusz Kaminski's Lost Souls, the first directorial effort for the long-time Spielberg cinematographer. Although Kaminski's art can be seen in such masterpieces as Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad, the directing talent of his influential pal has apparently not rubbed off. Written by Pierce Gardner and Betsy Stahl (first outing for them, too), Lost Souls is a mangled mess of Catholic idolatry and boogie-man mumbo-jumbo — boring, uneventful, and primarily stupid. Apparently, this film was completed over a year ago but its release was held back to avoid unfavorable comparison with last year's similar Catholic-themed films Stigmata and End Of Days. It didn't help. While neither of those films was anything to write home about, this one should require its producers to go to confession. Kaminski tries to use some jittery camera work to keep us awake, but the Gardner/Stahl script and the phoned in performances of Winona Ryder and Ben Chaplin make it a first class yawn fest and a tragic waste of time and celluloid. Even a cameo by John Hurt fails to make this film worthwhile.

Lost Souls takes an obscure passage from Deuteronomy and tries desperately to make something of it: at the film's opening, we see the words, "A man born of incest will become Satan and the world will be no more." Next we witness a failed exorcism which is attempted on a convicted killer thought to be possessed. But although psychopath Bergson (John Diehl) is not the devil in disguise, he seems to know who is. Through a numerical code he constantly scribbles down, he communicates to former possessee Maya Larkin (Ryder) that the Beast is hiding in the body of one Peter Kelson (Chaplin), an author who studies the psychology of killers and who does not believe that evil, per se, exists. He believes instead in a condition he calls "malignant narcissism," which is never properly explained, but which apparently causes people's evil behavior without the need for any Dark Lord of the Underworld to control them.

So Maya goes to the famed author and explains to him that not only does the devil exist, but it's him. He is not amused.

Lost Souls has no redeeming qualities. I have never seen Winona Ryder so indifferent to a role; it's as if she had to do this film in order to fulfill a court-ordered agreement, like community service. Maybe she got caught smoking doobie on the set of Alien Resurrection. Meanwhile, Chaplin has the emotional depth of a French poodle. He can't seem to manage anything but a look of confusion, perhaps because he's baffled at how his career has progressed from The Remains Of The Day to The Thin Red Line to this. The story is dreadfully boring; it is a full hour into the film before anything remotely interesting happens and the ending is no less than idiotic. Director Kaminski shows his cinematographic roots by utilizing color desaturation and a couple of different film stocks, not to mention handheld cameras, dark, brooding sets, and pretentious camera angles. But it's all just a show of technical knowhow with no . . . well, soul. *

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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