Soul Searcher (2005) – By David Stephenson

 And so here we have one of two reviews of films sent to me by Wysiwyg Films Ltd (possibly the world’s most unpronounceable film house.) This review in particular is about the British movie Soul Searcher, a kickass style piece which grabs chunks from the martial arts, gothic, horror, sci-fi and romance genres, sticks them in a bag and throws them together until mixed into this, a rather enjoyable piece of cinema.

Imagine the scene if you will – one man’s epic struggle against an oppressive system, his dream and his creation being slowly built up over the years until eventually he sees his vision becoming reality. A triumph of determination over the odds, a triumph of human ambition and the ability to make the unlikely happen. An uplifting tale indeed. That’s not the plot of this film though – that’s simply the struggle that director Neil Oseman went through to get this thing made. A 4 year journey which is now finally rewarded with the release of Soul Searcher on DVD. You can pick it up right now from all good online retailers. Heck, even George Lucas and Rick McCallum have shown their support.

So the question has to be – is it worth the wait? The answer is… well… possibly. Considering a wait longer than many British prison sentences, the outcome is indeed a highly entertaining piece of cinema with enough action to keep even the most ADD inflicted stoned teenagers on the edge of their seats. Having said that, it’s not a classic. Allow me to break it down.

The story follows young Joe Fallow, a lowly street sweeper with a dead-end job in a dead-end part of town, in a dead-end life. He’s weary and depressed with it all – and on top of that he thinks he’s in love with a woman he can barely even bring himself to talk to without turning to mush – a situation for which his best friend provides about as much sympathy as an overly sadistic prison guard shows to a chain gang. Indeed, life’s not going well for ol’ Fallow – until one night he’s buzzing about on his sweeper, and comes across a fight between two highly mysterious cloaked types. He helps one out by… running over the other one in his sweeper. As you do. It turns out to be a good move on his part – it turns out he’s just saved The Grim Reaper himself from a major ass-kicking. So impressed is El Muerto that later on he offers Joe a job – he wants him to take over the reigns at Death Himself.

And so lies the premise for what is infact a highly entertaining bit of film. There’s plenty of martial arts action as Joe slowly learns the ropes in true scythe-swinging fashion, kicking the living shit out of any escaped demons and the like which cross his path. Considering the film cost less to put together than a new Ford, the action here is very well choreographed and very hard hitting. Granted, it’s not exactly up to Jet Li standards, but I was very impressed. Imagine the action in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but times ten in terms of realism and general satisfaction. (More Buffy comparisons later…)

The acting is also of a very high standard. Ray Bullock Jr, who plays our man Joe fallow does an excellent job of bringing the role to life, capturing enough angst and young insecurity to make hearts flutter underneath the trainer-bras of the film’s teenage demographic. His performance seems highly natural, and he possesses a real flair for the role – a talent to keep an eye on for the future. Katrina Cooke who plays Heather, the love interest, is also magnificent in her role, playing a bubbly yet shy type who exudes natural poise. She has an excellent screen presence and her chemistry with our demon-slaying male lead is perhaps the highlight of the whole film.

A.J. Nicol is positively heartbreaking as Dante, a tortured soul who somehow acquires the dark powers needed to open up the gates of Hell and get back his long-lost love. His may have been the most difficult role to pull of, as rather than spin-kicks we have tears. Rather than standing in darkened shadowy places, he has to portray a rollercoaster ride of emotions from angst to anger, to resentment, to misery and love. He does it well, almost as if laughing at the barriers of acting limitation.

Jonny Lewis does well as The Grim Reaper, bringing a great deal of weight to his role as mentor, constantly being believably mysterious yet fatherly. He seems positively demonic at times, making him perfect for the role. It turns out, however, that Death is somehow dying. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible, but hey. It’s never quite disclosed what he’s dying from though – but we do see him cough once. Perhaps El Muerte has asthma?

It was also a nice surprise to see Richard Brake in this film – you may know him from his roles in Doom, Munich, Cold Mountain, etc. He also played Joe Chill in Batman Begins (the nasty street thug who slays Batman’s mommy and daddy.) Needless to say he carries out the role of Van Beuren with apparent ease and style.

The lighting and framing of the shots is nothing short of spectacular, as even the most remote and dull warehouses, tunnels and bridges are brought to life in extraordinary colour, transforming into almost mystical and occasionally hellish locations. A fight scene, for example, involving the aforementioned Van Beuren is taken to a whole new level by blue strobe lights which coat the under-side of a bridge in magnificently eerie shades. It’s as if the backdrops rise into a whole new cast member, such is the dramatic impact they have upon the piece.

This, when mixed with some of the special effects used can have awesome effects, often fooling the viewer into thinking they’re witnessing a multi-million dollar blockbuster, not a low-budget independent flick. The dead walk around with plasmic-looking umbilical chords stretching high above the city into the ether beyond. This effect seemed elegant and somehow beautiful. Angelic perhaps. I was reminded of the hallucinatory effects in Donnie Darko (and that’s a good thing.) I also like the symbolism of Death cutting the chords of life and freeing souls into the afterlife – something very well done here. A pat on the back for David Markwick, the man responsible for that one.

It’s the special effects, however, which sometimes let this piece down. A scene where a locomotive takes souls to hell (I call it the Soul Train) looks spectacular as the train passes over a high viaduct, all lit in beautiful reds, crimsons and oranges. Unfortunately the lava below is coated with some of the most unrealistic skeletons the world has ever seen, who repeat the same three motions over and over and over again. There’s also a shot where Big Man Death sprouts black angelic wings and flies. This could have looked great, had he not looked more like one of the Thunderbirds of Tracey Island rather than a demonic servant of Hell. I’d rather him just have walked dramatically off into the distance, rather than have low-budget effects ruin an otherwise powerful scene.

The costumes used span both ends of the quality spectrum (yes, I just made that term up. Bite me.) Joe Fallow’s cloak and scythe look purely awesome, some of the best kit I’ve seen since Brandon Lee’s Crow. Van Beuren looks great in a fetching red-and-black combo, with a western style hat to piece it all together. That’s pure cool. The trench coats on a whole in this film look ace. Some costume decisions, however, had me screaming at the screen. Death’s costume is the worst for this. Underneath his demonic venire lies what appears to be a waistcoat made out of sausages. Seriously. It looks like a bratwürst factory under there.

These limitations are mainly down to potentially crippling budgetary constraints – not due to a lack of skill by the film makers involved. Indeed, director Neil Oseman deserves some kind of bravery medal for all the blood, sweat and tears shed to get this thing off the ground. While the outcome of all this hardship isn’t exactly a Shakespearian epic, it’s a highly entertaining bit of action-packed cinema which is bound to thrill its teenage fanboy style demographic. It’s like Buffy The Vampire Slayer but with much better acting. Unlike Buffy, however, this film doesn’t make me want to puke my guts out.

I liked this film. Yes, there are some shortcomings, but overall it’s an enjoyable triumph of a piece. I’m not a 12 year old girl, but if I was I’m sure I’d have been bouncing in my seat with all the excitement the film delivers. (I’d probably be swooning over Ray Bullock Jr too, but that’s another matter lol) The main shortfall is that the film’s monolithic ambitions far outstretch its meagre budget. I’m confident that given enough cash to throw about then this could be a flick to give the likes of Constantine a run for their money.

Soul Searcher is available to buy right now at all good online retailers. It’s worth the money – especially for all of you with teenagers in the family. I enjoyed this film, and so will you.

You can find out more about this film and all of WYSIWYG’s other films by checking out their website at http://www.wysiwygfilms.com.