"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.