In your darkest moments, have you ever wondered what you would be capable of for survival? What would you sacrifice? Who would you kill? Well, in those few moments just there, you thought longer and harder than the protagonist in 5 Souls and probably deeper than its screenwriter. Overall, the movie doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be: morality play, buddy cop romance, allegory for corporate greed, anti-hero making amends, hero turning to the dark side? All of these themes could have come together to create a multi-layered and inquisitive study of human nature, but instead we get a jumbled mess of movie clichés, bad dialogue and very little investment in plot, let alone character, development.
The film opens with scenes jutting between two men. One is a troubled former cop who’s watching television and the other an architect getting his vaccination shots for his upcoming foreign honeymoon. Sam (Steve Bacic), the former cop, is bearded and has scraggly hair, so therefore he’s mysterious. Noah (Ian Bohen), the architect is clean-shaven and looks like a bit like Tim Daly (Wings), so in turn, he’s meant to be the protagonist and with whom our sympathies are supposed to lie. Both hear the news (from a blaring news television show) that a building has collapsed, taking a few lives in the process.
At the news, Noah falls into a coma due to shock and/or vaccination side effects. Whereas Sam is “woken up” (see that nifty narrative device they used there) and gets involved with the investigation of the building collapse and the lady detective who has one too many buttons undone on her shirt. The rest of Sam’s scenes fall into a very bad cop movie involving a man thrown off the force and is now trying to avenge his family’s deaths (crushed underneath a collapsing building) by investigating a similar case and finding love/lust along the way in the midst of searching files and heated accusations. When the film finally “reveals” how Sam is linked to Noah (if you can’t predict just reading this or within the first few scenes), the twist’s payoff is not worth waiting over an hour.
Now, back to Noah, the “squeaky-clean” architect who gets hit on by almost every woman he encounters, including the hospital receptionist who calls his fiancée a “lucky bitch.” I kid you not. After he falls into his coma, he encounters “evil” then “good.” Evil appears in the form of Yusef (Steven Schub), who has the charisma of Vincent Gallo and a voice with hints of Dr. Evil/Lorne Michaels. The character of Yusef is a convoluted Mephistopheles (Faust) with his offer of salvation from hell on the contingency that Noah kills five people. Not a demon and not the devil, he is downright creepy without crossing into intriguing and his some real cringe-worthy lines—“Remember Noah, it’s my will be done,” and “You should never kill a girl without kissing her first.” Without too many blinks, Noah goes and kills as Yusef bids, negating any “leading man” feelings we had for him and with very little actual blood shed. Apparently, the “good” character Jessica (Kristina Anapau) isn’t very persuasive, even as an attractive blind redhead who is a fellow patient and flashes Noah her derriere while giving him vague sage-sounding advice.
Now onto the purported “star” of the film, Samaire Armstrong, who you may remember from The O.C. or the under-appreciated Dirty Sexy Money. She’s barely in here as Noah’s fiancée, but does have an unintentionally funny scene in which she is interviewed by Sam and the lady detective as opera music plays in the background. Personally, I was hoping that she would reveal herself to be the mastermind behind some crazy conspiracy with the collapsing buildings and the higher possibly supernatural powers at play, possibly involving some Hannibal-esque cannibalism, but alas, not so much with something involving shoddy building materials in a sub-plot that could have worked for an episode of Dallas. Armstrong’s pretty enough to play the “loving fiancee,” but we don’t get enough of a back story to find her character compelling.
This is the crux of the movie’s problem, not enough thought was given to the characters and story line beyond very general characterizations (former cop making amends, handsome wealthy man not all that he appears, etc.). For a film that looks like a supernatural horror film, it lacks the blood and guts you would expect from a film advertising a serial killer who consorts with the Devil (resorting to chords being pulled and pillow smothering) and doesn’t even try to make up for that with character development. Even as the people Noah killed come back to haunt him (in many senses, as we discover with the “big twist”), we don’t feel chills or sympathy for anyone involved. Instead, we get a few clichés thrown in with a few out-there concepts, none of which are brought to full fruition.
If you want a blood-and-guts horror film that involves a deal with the Devil, this is not the one for you. If you want a film to throw your wrists up in frustration to or laugh at due to its plot leaps, this is the ticket. Rather than being snapshots of a few very different plot lines, 5 Souls could have been a decent film if it was in more capable hands who would have known which elements to emphasize for the best dramatic effect rather than trying to incorporate so many divergent ideas. Unfortunately instead, the film was led by first-time director Brian Donowho with Colet Abedi’s first and as of now only produced feature-length screenplay. Blending the old-school supernatural with the modern day and a pretty out-there twist (that you can see coming from a mile away), 5 Souls feels like Dracula 2000 without the fangs, campyness or Gerard Butler to save it.