"Lost Souls" is lost all right, a dreary tale of supernatural horror featuring Winona Ryder doing battle with Satan. Like her most recent previous film, "Autumn in New York," an old-fashioned tear-jerker that opened sans press previews, "Lost Souls" is set in Manhattan, ravishingly photographed in virtual sepia. Maybe the talented Ryder should head back to California about now and steer clear of genre material for a while.
Ryder plays Maya, saved from demonic possession by John Hurt's Father Lareaux, whom she now assists in exorcisms. An institutionalized mass murderer (John Diehl) asserts his right to request an exorcism over the strong reservations of the facility's skeptical director (Alfre Woodard, unbilled).
This time the ceremony goes awry, the priest is left near death, and Maya decodes the mass murderer's endless rows of numbers to discover that the devil is about to possess Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin), author of a book about mass murderers that concludes they are only extreme examples of narcissistic manipulation. Kelson holds that true evil does not exist, and Maya finds herself determined to convince him otherwise before Satan overtakes him on the moment of his swiftly approaching 33rd birthday.
The problem with the film, which marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who won Oscars for his superb cinematography in "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," is not that it takes the devil seriously--remember how chillingly convincing "Rosemary's Baby" was? It's rather that its characters are so colorless and uninvolving that it's hard to take them seriously.
Pierce Gardner's woefully underdeveloped script is further undermined by stretches of unintentionally amusing dialogue. Neither scary nor even suspenseful, the picture is swiftly a turnoff, and stunning cinematography by Mauro Fiore and elaborate production design by Garreth Stover do not compensate for the many flaws. Instead, they bring them sharply into focus.
* MPAA rating: R, for violence/terror and some language. Times guidelines: standard horror effects but too intense for children.
Winona Ryder: Maya Larkin
Ben Chaplin: Peter Kelson
Sarah Wynter: Claire Van Owen
Philip Baker Hall: Father James
John Hurt: Father Lareaux
A New Line Cinema presentation of a Prufrock Pictures production. Director Janusz Kaminski. Producers Nina R. Sadowsky, Meg Ryan. Executive producers Betsy Stahl, Pierce Gardner, Donna Langley, Michael De Luca. Screenplay Gardner; from a story by Gardner and Stahl. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore. Editors Anne Goursaud, Andrew Mondshein. Music Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Special makeup and animatronic effects by Stan Winston Studio. Visual effects and animation by Cinesite. Costumes Jill Ohanneson. Production designer Garreth Stover. Art director Chris Cornwell. Lead set designer Conny Marinos.s Set decorator Larry Dias. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
In general release.