Soulmate (Movie Review)

Soulmate (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: After the tragic death of her husband, the suicidally depressed Audrey seeks solitary refuge in a quaint Welsh cottage. There, she strikes up a romantic bond with the sensitive ghost of the previous owner, Douglas.

REVIEW: Arriving on the heels of a trio of short films made in 2011, actress-filmmaker Axelle Carolyn makes her feature debut with SOULMATE, a preciously languid romance masquerading behind genre convention. Guys, stop reading here, as there's absolutely no reason for me to recommend this one to you. This is strictly chick-flick horror fare, and as reductive as that sounds, isn't even likely to offer many thrills and chills to yet the most novice of horror fans...male or female. A shame too, because the film has undeniable beauty and elegance in its sumptuous sets and gorgeous photography, and a deftly measured pace to support such aesthetic. Problem is, very little action takes place in the film, certainly a dearth of fright to boot, which more or less results in a stuffy, high-brow-emo-horror-bore-fest!

So, enter Audrey (Anna Walton), an emotionally bereft widow struggling to pick the pieces after the sudden and tragic death of her husband. As the flick opens, we're treated to a weepy score and candle-lit bathtub suicide attempt...which should instantly let you know what kind of flick this is. Audrey slits her wrists and sinks into the tub before being saved in the nick of time by her mother. And the appropriate response? Well, why not whisk yourself up to Wales and spend your days alone in a sleepy old cottage. What's the worst that can happen? After-all, you're already a sallow, osteal, pill-popping violinist with absolutely zero joy in your life, why not completely isolate yourself from humanity and work through your emotional and spiritual strife alone? That's the answer, right?!

Not quite. As soon as Audrey moves in to the Talbot Cottage, she instantly senses something amiss. She hears strange noises at night, pounds more pills, and just chalks it up to pharmacological side effects. Healthy! But soon, the real culprit shows up...the equally emo-ghost of the cottage's previous owner, Douglas Talbot. At first, Audrey assumes Douglas is there to cause her harm. But no. Douglas is too wracked with his own personal grief (his wife too died, yet her ghost is nowhere to be found), not to mention the purgatorial ennui he laments, and the incessant loneliness therein. Put simply, he's too much of a whiny pussy to be scary. Whispering softly, sharing deep emotional recollections of his one true love, kindly fostering Audrey's broken spirit back into vivacity, this is what ol' Ghost Dougy has to offer. Of course, Audrey is reticent at first, in particular when the few outside people she does speak to express deep doubt about her ghostly new friend, but soon starts to open up and enjoy Douglas' ethereal presence. But can she really fall in love with a sensitive specter? Can she really forge a life ahead with an untouchable apparition? Has she found her true SOULMATE?

Yes, that's what we're dealing with here. Listen, I often celebrate the bucking of convention, which is exactly what Carolyn has done by creating a largely benevolent, even romantic ghost. But it just isn't very compelling. At all. Hell, the movie GHOST with Demi and Swayze did it better 25 years ago. Or non-romantically, del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE featured a wonderfully benign poltergeist...and did so in a much more involved, imagined story. In SOULMATE, by contrast, I kept thinking of a sappy Jane Austen adaptation, where the lachrymose man's most enraged outburst results merely in the shuffling of some papers on a desk, or the quick billowing of a fire-flame. Completely impotent! And even worse here than the drippy romance is the overly precious tone of the entire film. SOULMATE is utterly devoid of humor, takes itself way too seriously, and offers very little fun as a result. Everyone and everything is so dreary and sullen, which is fine given the premise, but to remain mired in said tone for the duration only makes the film feel one-dimensional.

A shame, for here was a lost opportunity for cinematographer Sara Deane to really shine. As a longtime DP for Paul Greengrass (UNITED 93, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS), SOULMATE is a gorgeously shot film. The smoky, dusty shafts of light and lavish Welsh countrysides are nothing short of breathtaking. They really establish a mood and atmosphere that I wish the rest of the film reciprocated. As it is however, this is bound to be a forgotten effort, regardless of the high-marks the technical side of the film deserves. And in terms of performance, nothing terribly transformative was laid down, but I do give some credit to Walton (Audrey) and Tom Wisdom (Douglas) for committing wholeheartedly to the material. It's not them per se that is the issue, it's the script and their specific characters that are sorely lacking. Sure, they too are playing the parts way too seriously for their own good, but only a result of the writing and directing.

In the end, aside from a pair of admirably committed performances and an absolutely stunning visual template, SOULMATE lacks in pretty much every other aspect. It's not scary. It's not romantic. It's not emotionally involved, nor is it original or moving in any real way. Moreover, the one-note tone of the film is far too austere with its lack of mirth and levity, rendering the entire experience very little fun. That said, as a first feature, I do think writer/director Axelle Carolyn has surrounded herself with enough talent (at least behind the camera) to want to see what she does with a better script.

Extra Tidbit: SOULMATE was made back in 2013 and is slated to premiere on DVD in the US on October 28th.
Source: AITH



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