Heavy Soul (2005) – By Duane L. Martin

 Back in the 50’s, and even before that, there were all sorts of social-educational films created to tell us why we were all going to hell if we didn’t behave in a certain way. While some actually had validity to them, many have become pop-culture gems that have entertained many a gen-xer at late night parties where much of what is preached against in the films is actually a regular occurrence.

Once in a while, someone will try to make a modern sort of a spoof on these classic old preachies, and that’s exactly what film maker Oren Shai has done…only with a bit of a twist. Heavy Soul takes place back in the 50’s where scumbags with greased back hair and dirty sluts with drug problems and social diseases rode around on the backs of motorcycles in an ongoing quest to corrupt the youth of America. Unfortunately for Dakota Thompson (Sally Conway), she’s about to meet up with some of these creeps, only her corruption doesn’t involve drugs or social diseases…it involves blood. She becomes addicted to it, even to the point where she cuts herself to drink her own, and takes it in trade from other people for sexual favors.

Her parents finally take her into a psychiatric hospital where the psychiatrist recommends a course of shock treatments. That’s where we find her in the film, with much of the rest of it being flashbacks to past events.

This movie is rather bizarre and jumps around quite a bit, which makes it a little hard to follow at times. A lot of it is simply flashbacks to past events though, so the jumping aorund is by design, not the result of bad writing or editing or anything else.

The look of the film is absolutely brilliant. They did an awesome job of making it look like it came straight out of the 50’s, with only two minor exceptions. The first is that it keeps jumping between black & white and color. It would have created more coherence in the look and given more of a sense of warping back in time so to speak had the entire film been done in black & white. The other exception is that during the electro shock scenes where the doctor is talking, he’s clearly on a television monitor and in color. That sort of threw off the old style feel of the film as well. As far as the general look of everything else though, from the clothes to the hair to the props…all simply brilliant and extremely well done.

The acting in this film was really good as well, and Sally Conway as Dakota Thompson did an outstanding job of bringing the proper innocence to the role as well as the proper level of decline as she fell deeper and deeper into her addiction. It’s hard for a modern actor to really achieve the feel and personality of a past era and really bring that out in their role. If you watch films from around 1900 to the present, you’ll notice how acting styles, personalities and even physical looks and movements have changed from decade to decade. Even things as subtle as facial expressions seem to have changed over the years, so it’s really a great accomplishment when you can study how things looked in a past decade and then mimic that in an authentic way.

The creativity and talent he displayed in this fourteen minute short film would carry well over into full length features, and I know we’ll be hearing a lot more about this particular film maker in the future.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out director Oren Shai’s website at http://www.rockingoren.com.