Horror films can be made on the cheap!
The bad news?
Well, sadly … Horror films can be made on the cheap.
If I had a dime for every film I’ve seen like Abandoned Souls, then I’d at least have earned enough scratch to make my very own horror flick. On the cheap, at least! I don’t know if that would be a good thing or a bad thing, as I’ve never made a motion picture. Sadly, many other people in the entertainment biz suffer from that same affliction, it would appear.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“In an underground prison an inmate escapes during a riot. One year later, a group of friends set out to locate an old hermit shack. Their worst nightmares are revealed when they spawn an evil darkness within the escaped prisoner.”
Now … Abandoned Souls starts with a very big premise.
There’s this derelict prison facility that apparently is housing men and women who’ve been turned to something similar to zombies or cannibals or feral people (or some other such Horror-fueled nonsense). Then someone orchestrates a bit of a prison break (or sorts) or was it? Unfortunately, it’s very unclear, though trust me when I saw it’s all rendered as stylishly as can be accomplished in post-production trickery. And then some highly-weaponized SWAT team (or some task force or other) rushes the place, only to find most of the inmates are gone. At this point, the commander then receives an ominous request: “Make them all disappear again.”
When did they disappear the first time?
Sadly, this is the case with much of what accounts for story in Souls. The opening is a ten-minute set-up reel exploring this prison and its man-eating (or are they?) inmates, and then the viewer is presented with the apocryphal “one year later …” tagline. So the audience is thrown forward in time a full year after events they’re shown but given no clear explanation for.
So … anyway … one year later, a group of friends headed up by McKenzie (played by a lovely Vicki Rivard) and David (a relentlessly dour Aiden Simko) escape the big city for a cabin in the woods (never a good idea, people), and anyone should be able to guess what’s about to happen: yes, they’re all going to spend the weekend basically terrorized by one or more of these feral critterfolk.
As you may guess from my tone, I was mostly disappointed with Souls.
It would’ve been nice to minimally be given a greater explanation on those fateful opening ten minutes; if nothing else, writer/director Chris Abell would’ve established some greater context for which he was going to spin the real story that follows. Alas, things fall apart from that point onward, and, while it never truly musters up any significant scares, it does feature a nice central performance by Ms. Rivard. In fact, she’s so good in the role that I can only hope someone discovers her and offers her work in another picture (one with more thought, preparation, and execution); she’s a reasonably talented bright spot in an otherwise dim work.
Also, I’m fairly well known in these parts for giving ‘props’ (kudos) to bright ideas, so I’d be a fool if I missed the chance to say that Souls has a smattering of good ideas in it. The central problem is there’s nothing connecting all of those good ideas but incidental characters. For example, I love the reality wherein some secret cadre of monster hunters are hired to roam the backwoods and abandoned cabins of America snuffing out monsters. Heck, NBC had a popular program in its line-up (called Grimm) that uses that structure as a jumping off point, and where would a franchise like The X-Files be without agents Scully and Mulder relentlessly pursuing what goes bump in the night? Had director Abell fleshed that out some more, brought those characters into focus, and made his 'twentysomethings lost in the woods’ an effective B-Story, then Souls may’ve had the chance to achieve at least cult status.
But as it is? It feels mostly just abandoned.
Unfortunately, I can’t say who produced Abandoned Souls as I’ve been unable to locate any information online pertaining to it (IMDB.com surprisingly has no substantive information regarding it). DVD distribution is being handled by Maverick Entertainment Group. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds about as well as most independent horror schlock does these days, but the sound engineers could’ve used a refresher course in how to properly ‘mike’ several scenes. (Also, there’s one sequence where the cinematographer or director completely substituted a completely different film stock because colors changed jarringly dramatically, and that’s never a good thing.) The DVD screener I was provided had no available features, so I can’t speak to whether or not the consumer product will have any.
There’s an audience out there somewhere for films like Abandoned Souls mostly because they keep getting made. This isn’t to say that it’s entirely a disappointment; there’s a nice central performance from Vicki Rivard, and clearly some thought went into Abell’s script. Methinks Abell was too close to all the action as the director and writer to see the inherent weaknesses of the entire project, and that ends up being the picture’s biggest Achilles’ Heel.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Maverick Entertainment Group provided me with a DVD screener copy by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.