"Soul Survivors" is a glum would-be thriller of the supernatural that loses interest early on, never to regain it. A pretty Midwestern blond, Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller), takes off for college not so far from her hometown with her boyfriend, Sean (Casey Affleck), her friend Annabel (Eliza Dushku) and Annabel's boyfriend, Matt (Wes Bentley), who will help his pals settle in before continuing on to Harvard.
The next thing we know the young people are going through Rush Week. They get bored and head for a club in an imposing old church on the edge of town. There seem to be bonfires everywhere, heightening the club's Inferno-like atmosphere. Cassie dances up a storm, Sean declares his love to her only to catch Matt giving her a lingering kiss in her car. It seems that Matt is also in love with Cassie, who has rejected him but has permitted him a farewell kiss.
In any event, all four pile into the car in a tense mood made edgier by everyone having been drinking. Almost immediately, a car comes out of nowhere, cuts in front of Cassie and goes into a 180-degree spin. A crash is inevitable, which leaves Annabel and Wes unscathed. Cassie is struck on the right side of her head and Sean is killed. Or is he? From this point on it's impossible to know for sure what's going on until the film's final few minutes. Cassie continues to have visions of Sean and experience other weird occurrences, which poses the inevitable question: Is she losing her mind, or is someone trying to drive her out of it? Or are we experiencing a phenomenon whose nature is impossible to verify until the filmmaker chooses to reveal his hand?
Unfortunately, writer-director Steve Carpenter gives us precious little to make us care one way or another, and proceeds to worsen the experience by his resolute earnestness when a touch of humor now and then might have been a big help. The actors are game, but their roles lack color and depth, and it's a real struggle to survive "Soul Survivors" to the finish.
MPAA-rated: PG-13 for terror/violence, sexuality and some substance abuse. Times guidelines: Too intense for youngsters.
Melissa Sagemiller: Cassie
Wes Bentley: Matt
Casey Affleck: Sean
Eliza Dushku: Annabel
Artisan Entertainment presentation. Writer-director Steve Carpenter. Producers Neal H. Moritz, Stokely Chaffin. Executive producers Michele Weisler, Jonathan Shestack. Cinematographer Fred Murphy. Editors Janice Hampton, Todd Ramsay. Music Daniel Licht. Costumes Denise Wingate. Production designer Larry Fulton. Art director Keith Cunningham. Set designer Patrick Raney. Set decorator Doug Mowat. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times