For me, the horror bug is one I’ve been unable to kick in all the years since I’ve been infatuated with cinema, in spite of the fact that the genre has slid significantly from grace (and general watchability). Last year alone the four worst films I saw (of 145) were horror flicks and it’s come to the point where scouring the indie circles is close to the only way to find fare of note. I had no expectations when I ventured into 6 Souls, from the fact it hasn’t seen the light of the big screen despite being shelved since 2010 to the generally toxic reviews it had already received. The signs weren’t promising.
Imagine my amazement (as in check as it may have been) that 6 Souls, is actually far from a total disaster. It is in fact a compulsively watchable effort. More than I can say for most films of this ilk, this supernatural thriller sticks to the confines of its formula, even when following the well-worn path of the genre which sees nuance thrown out the door for the climax. That is to say there is no left-field, gobsmackingly moronic twist. The film even goes one step further and provides us with a cleanly disquieting final scene.
Keeping the hokum and sometimes silly nature of the whole story in check are directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein who would go on to direct Underworld: Awakening, a film infinitely more atrocious than 6 Souls. But I digress, as the pair brings some much needed visual flair to the proceedings, which as I said grounds the more outlandish elements in a realm of gothic reality. One scene in particular where our heroine walks through a dilapidated barn with drying pages of music quivering in the wind is a fantastic example of dynamic visuals, from the imagery itself to the angles employed.
Our aforementioned protagonist is Cara Harding (Julianne Moore), a psychiatrist who specializes in multiple personality disorder, or more specifically in disproving that such a condition is as prevalent as thought or that it exists at all. However, at the bequest of her father (Jeffrey DeMunn) she takes on what he says is a unique subject and so she meets with the shy, wheelchair-bound Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) – or is it the cocky David? As she continues to prod at her patient it becomes clear that something not of this world is at play and that this individual may be more dangerous than she initially thought.
It’s hugely beneficial to their characters and the film as a whole that both Moore and Myers are very good in 6 Souls. One would suspect as much for any film but it’s even more of an asset in a horror flick. Moore strikes the right balance between sceptic and strong-willed mother trying to do right by her family and Myers, though often given not much to do besides mimic others, throws himself into it all with conviction.
The first 20-or-so minutes which, in a stripped down nature, has Cara and Adam-David indulge in a little therapy session, is rather engrossing how in its simple way, foreshadows doom to come. There is also an intriguing (if undeveloped) murder mystery aspect to the film where we don’t known which of this man’s personalities are the dangerous ones, nor how many there are.
“When is this going to get bad?” It’s a question I subconsciously ask myself going into every horror film and it was even more on my mind for 6 Souls – the premise and stigma demanded it. And while it never really did, the film still contains enough clichés and poor storytelling decisions to nearly sink the whole thing.
While 6 Souls thankfully makes its supernatural intentions apparent early on (a choice that allows the film to sidestep a wild twist), it doesn’t do much with it. The powers and motivations behind this force could have been much better explained but I imagine in a film like this it simply would have come in the form of limp exposition. Likewise there seems to be little-to-no pattern to the violence and often the victims are too thinly developed to serve up much in the way of dramatic potency come time for the axe.
Myers’ character is also inexplicably sidelined for the last third, returning for the finale to act merely as faceless serial killer, no longer the infinitely more intriguing, conflicted nut job. Instead, we get Moore wandering about Hillbilly Junction, going to the library and banally trying to save her friends and family from a seemingly invisible foe. I’m no Oscar winning director but I think it’s safe to say opting to cut out your main antagonist in favour of obvious, dull exposition isn’t a wise choice. And all the religiously themed platitudes while overdone to death in the genre could have been avoided entirely in lieu of something more mysterious and sinister.
As it currently appears, 6 Souls is to be reviled as one of the worst horror films of the year – a deeply unfair distinction. In spite of all its pitfalls and even when forced to wallow in its own mess, 6 Souls is rarely boring, avoids senseless gore and jump scares and provides strong performances from earnest leads which lend greatly to the experience. The views of this particular sceptic and the nature of her scepticism are more interesting than most (looking at you disbelieving ghost hunter), as are the stylistic choices, which at the very least give us something cool to look at. For what it’s worth, you could do far worse in a genre that sometimes seems to be trying to come off as intentionally awful.