Written by: Michael Cooney
Directed by: Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein
Starring: Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Jeffrey DeMunn
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“I'd like to consider myself a doctor of science, but a woman of God."
6 Souls is one of those films that roughly approximates what ADD must be like—it starts with one premise before blasting through a couple more, and once the credits start rolling, it leaves you wondering just how it got from Point A to Point Z. Even worse, it’ll leave you fumbling for just what happened, which isn’t always a bad thing in films that attempt to unsettle through uncertainty and ambiguity. However, 6 Souls is not one of those films—in fact, it’s so preoccupied with impressing viewers with its various twists, turns, and explanations that it forgets to really convince them that they should care about the characters and lingering dread within. It’s a tangled mess of a film, full of peaks and valleys as it winds and wends through various modes—some are cliché, while some carry the faint hint of originality.
Initially, the clichés are relentless: Julianne Moore is Cara Harding, a highly respected psychologist grieving the loss of her husband. Since she’s spent most of her career shooting down cases dealing with multiple personalities, her father and fellow psychologist (Jeffrey DeMunn) presents her with the intriguing case of David Bernberg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a soft-spoken and paralyzed young man who describes being raised in a god-fearing home. After receiving a phone call that asks to speak to Adam, he suddenly changes personalities on a dime. He’s now an entirely different (and more confrontational) person who effortlessly rises from his wheelchair. According to Cara’s diagnosis, Adam is the “host” that’s constructed an alternate personality to cope with his own trauma, and her look into the case begins to unravel a decades-long, supernaturally-tinged conspiracy.
The writer here is Michael Cooney (of Identity fame and Jack Frost infamy), and it seems pretty obvious that he’s attempting to recapture some former glory by retreading schizoid psychological thriller territory. Give him some credit, though: he not only refuses to stick to the same old tricks, but he conjures up some new ones from a deep bag. The problem is that there’s too many, but there’s at least some cool ideas here and there. For example, Cara discovers that David Bemberg was actually a person who was brutally murdered in the 80s, back when Adam was only about six years old, which proves that he hasn’t just created this alternate personality out of thin air. After figuring this out, Cara is obviously shaken and attempts to come up with a logical explanation for this, only to constantly be thwarted. It’s at this point that 6 Souls is at its most interesting since it’s vaguely echoing theories of reincarnation and past life experiences, which is stuff I find fascinating (and I also find it really fascinating that movies have rarely mined it for material).
But before you can get too comfortable exploring this creepy shit, the film jerks you away with another revelation that sends it off in another direction. More personalities are introduced, as is a subplot where a family acquaintance develops a disgusting rash before he all but disappears for a little while and slinks into the background long enough for you to forget about him. He eventually comes stumbling back into the picture just in time to get mixed up with all the other stuff that gets flung onto a wall: crises of faith (both Clara and her young daughter have been shaken by their loss), rotting corpses, dead rock stars, flu outbreaks, faith healers, and, eventually, a bunch of mountain people that boast a witch-doctor among their number. Like I said before, I’m not quite sure how the movie eventually careens towards it conclusion, but it somehow sadly degenerates into typical possession/revenge-from-beyond-the-grave stuff (so, hey, not unlike Jack Frost after all, only with ash-spewing victims instead of snowman rape).
We’ve seen movies jumble a lot of ideas together before, of course, but this one doesn’t go about it very gracefully, as it seems like every other scene is dedicated to someone talking about this revelation or that revelation. Moore, who turns in a convincing performance whenever she’s given the chance, spends most of the film bombing from one location to the next compiling information that starts piling up with reckless abandon. It’s not that the film is impossible to follow—it’s just that I was having flashbacks to 10th grade algebra class, where I constantly felt the need to take notes and keep up. And nobody wants to be reminded of algebra, least of all me, which is probably why I could never quite get into 6 Souls, a film that has too many ideas for its own good. There are worse criticisms, of course, but this is just further proof that more plot doesn’t equal a great plot, even if I could pick out a handful of elements that are intriguing, like the sort of Blair Witch-y rural hill folk stuff and Meyers’s (literally) layered performance that finds him switching between multiple disparate personalities with ease.
Swedish directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein team up here (as they did for Storm and Underworld: Awakening) to craft some elegant and skillful compositions, especially during the early-going, where they can establish a modicum of mood and eeriness. Once Cooney’s gabby script takes over, the atmosphere becomes a residual mist that hangs around, so the film looks consistently creepy while everyone talks it out. These guys are definitely talented stylists, so I hope Hollywood has better material for them in the future. Despite its 2013 release, 6 Souls was actually their American debut but has been stuck on the shelf collecting dust for a few years (the Weinstein treatment) after it was released in the UK as Shelter. Anchor Bay has outfitted it with a no-frills Blu-ray that boasts a strong presentation but nothing in the way of features, which has all the makings of a film that deserves to be dumped to video with little fanfare. 6 Souls(a title that makes as much sense as many of the film’s proceedings) is mostly just a disjointed mess that actually must be trying to replicate the schizophrenia at its center. If so, it's at least a success on that level because it definitely has an identity crisis. Rent it!
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