Winona Ryder and John Hurt slum it in this forgettable apocalyptic thriller which was outdated before it was even released.
A journey through the 100 very worst films that line the bottom of the barrel of unimpeachable review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the benign critical overlord of all movie review websites.
#95 Lost Souls (2000)
Directed by Janusz Kaminski
Starring Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, John Hurt, Philip Baker Hall
What is it?
The weak sister of the turn-of-the-millennium biblical apocalypse cycle that already included such wrongheaded and/or tawdry fare as Arnie’s End of Days, Polanski’s Ninth Gate, Kevin Smith’s Dogma and, erm… Casper Van Dien’s The Omega Code. But in a slip that shall prove indicative of the kind of sloppy seconds that dribble from the film’s every orifice like cheese through a goose, Lost Souls didn’t actually see the light until October 2000. By which time such intangible follies as millennial angst, the Y2K Bug and gloomy, churchy Armageddon thrillers seemed like the quaint, bygone prattlings of heretical Dark Ages idolaters.
Winona Ryder stars as the wildest card in an ultra-fanatical Roman Catholic heavy mob scouring the world in the hope of running down any budding Antichrists. She’s nervy. She wears black nail polish. She’s given to rolling around on the bed with her back arched in fits of wild-eyed glossolalia. She hangs about with John Hurt. We just know there’s more to her than meets the eye. There isn’t.
Ben Chaplin – he of TV’s underrated Beckettian sitcom Game On and the main casualty of the cutting-room floor during Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line Wolverine-esque editing meltdown – is an unconvincingly high-tone author. The kind who spends more time on expositional talk shows explaining to the audience what it is he does than he does at his typewriter. He apparently writes studies on psychopathic behavior and the nature of eeevil. He is also, in case you haven’t already put together the single-figure number of demonic sticklebricks that make up the plot, the unwitting Beelzebub Jr-in-waiting that Winny and her crazed band of mad purple cassocks are hunting for.
Why so bad?
There’s a famous story concerning a meeting between director Tim Burton and the Warner Bros execs to discuss his soon-to-be-released film Beetlejuice…
Exec#1: Now don’t get us wrong here now, Tim – we think you’ve made a great movie.
Excec#2: Yeah… There’s just one little problem. With the title. They’re not completely sure that everyone’s gonna get a handle on 'Beetlejuice'…
Exec#1: It’s kinda kooky, Tim! A little whacked out, no? Can’t really see it working on a lunchbox or a Big Gulp. So we’ve come up with a few ideas which we’ve whittled down to the one that we think really encapsulates the mood of the movie.
Excec#2: … 'House Ghost'!
Tim Burton: … 'House Ghost'?
Burton: Tell you what, why don’t you just go ahead and call it 'Dogshit' instead?
The film those executives later went on to make was eventually retitled 'Lost Souls'.
What does it want to be?
Well, even if they weren’t exactly shooting for the moon, the filmmakers would surely at least be aiming for something vaguely scary and just-about coherent.
But despite Tomato Soup being something of a shithouse when it comes to horror films, the rudimentary haunted house shocks, scarifying doomsday prophesies and ripping, shearing, contorting body horror left us colder than a well-digger’s belt-buckle. Calmer than a Hindu cow.
That’s possibly because we had very little idea what was actually going on. Normal plot dynamics or traditionally accepted Western logic don’t really apply here. There’s very little clue as to who anyone is or what they’re trying to achieve. All character motivations are explained via recourse to grainy, contrasty flashbacks of people writhing around on beds like they’re in a snuff-movie based on the video for Nirvana’s 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.
It’s as if the filmmakers woke from a night of boozy, idle pub-talk to find that their drunken, shouty can’t-miss ‘idea’ for an apocalyptic chiller has already entered principal photography and they’re having to do some seriously hungover running repairs in order to keep the wheels coming off their rickety clown-car.
It really ought to be the supporting cast. Although they might be a little on the nose for a film like this, John Hurt (as a double-dealing whiskey priest), Philip Baker Hall (as a gruff, world-weary cleric) and Elias Koteas (as Elias Koteas) are all safe bets in even the dodgiest applesauce, but here they are skirting on very thin ice indeed. None make much of an impression.
And while it would be nice to add that Spielberg’s current go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has at least produced a visually stylish experience, to do so would amount to fraud.
The Drinking Game
Stiffen your Bloody Mary every time the plot requires closeted religious fantasist and documented nutjob Ryder to somehow elude any and all security measures to wander uncomprehendingly into high-security mental hospitals, penthouse suites of patrolled office buildings, swanky ticket-only black-tie soirees etc.
In The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey's Verbal Kint claims that "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,". The greatest favour he could have done it is to convince producer Meg Ryan – Meg Ryan? – into keeping Lost Souls well under wraps.
Next Week: Illeana Douglas, Zooey Deschanel, Henry Rollins and Lyle Lovett are just some of the unfortunates who meet The New Guy.