Full-length features can be a curse. So often, a great premise (The Grim Reaper needs an apprentice), scary bits (street sweepers will never seem the same), fab special effects (the undead’s encore departure from the planet soars wondrously) and a first-rate score (The Monkey King’s charts and Scott Benzie’s music are the highlight of the film—despite the wayward pitch and ensemble from the Worcestershire Symphony Orchestra and Colla Voce), magnificently raise expectations that the film will at least maintain the brilliance and pace of the opening twenty minutes and roar into cult status forevermore.
Sad to report that Soul Searcher soon gives up the ghost and never finds its way back to horrific excellence.
As director, producer, co-writer, cinematographer and editor, Neil Oseman must take responsibility for the greatness and the grief. Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but extra sets of eyes and perspectives can only enhance a production of this grand scale. Which is ironic, given that a major failing is the lack of overall direction and tone. With one man running the show, surely that should be the easy part.
There are moments of humour (“Grim? Sorry Ezekiel?”), bravura “I’m gonna ask her out,” as Joe (Ray Bullock Jr., ready for the next Star Wars incarnation with his convincing “get the demons” portrayal) morphs from the Grim Sweeper to Death in the hood. His training evokes memories of Rocky, Beautiful Boxer and even Puteri Gunung Ledang (cross-references below), but with so many tools at his murderous disposal (fists, feet, swords, scythes and sarcasm) the fight sequences become largely drawn out affairs that merely end rather than demolish a foe.
The special effects are fun (James Parkes’ sassy “Moat of Souls”) or soon tiresome (David Marwick’s umbilical chord is, er, strung out too long, too many times). The biggest bad guy, Dante (Andy Nicol) only puzzles the proceedings. Like our hero, he’s trying to reclaim his long-dead lover, but Hanna’s currently residing in hell. There’s a contemporary irony in Dante’s search for the missing link of a magical chain that, once reconnected, will lower purgatory’s drawbridge and unleash millions of condemned souls. Whether Darwin’s evolutionary ideas or our computer age’s ultimate hyperlink to create the greatest video game ever told, with both good and evil attempting to reunite with a loved one, it’s hard to despise one or cheer on the other.
Don’t miss the train to Hades—its engine number will be in all film trivia game boxes soon. Here’s a happy example of the attention to detail that moves any production from good to great.
The addition of a supernatural bounty hunter, Luca Callista (Lara Greenway, deliciously campy with her twin-holster shifter shooters), fills the time, adds a couple of yuks but fails to be the next logical step in the narrative. Still, the final frames’ scream for sequel can be heard from here to Pluto!
Which wouldn’t be a bad thing. With so much in place, the next grand chapter from the never-ending struggle between dark and light could be truly terrific from crypt to cauldron—if only the brain trust would expand its base. JWR