Dead Souls (2012)
“Don’t Go Home.”
Director: Colin Theys
Cast: Jesse James, Magda Apanowicz, Bill Moseley
Synopsis: Johnny Petrie learns on his 18th birthday that he was adopted after inheriting a farm in Maine. Eager to start a new life, Johnny leaves home so he can began afresh in this “new” dwelling.
If Dead Souls was able to maintain the momentum of its opening ten minutes it would have undoubtedly surpassed its Made-for-TV origins but, perhaps inevitably, it settles into a more subdued tone for the bulk of its running time, and tries — not entirely unsuccessfully — for a creepy, brooding atmosphere rather than horror. The trouble is atmosphere is all well and good if its supported by the occasional scare, but using it to carry an entire movie, which is essentially what Dead Souls attempts to do, is a notoriously difficult trick to pull off.
Jesse James plays John Petrie, a typical school kid who, on his 18th birthday, receives notification that he has inherited a rambling farm house in Maine. I say John is ‘typical’ but this is in spite of his domineeriing mother (Geraldine Hughes) who attempts to control every aspect of his life. When John informs her of his windfall, she faints dead away and is sent to hospital for observation, which proves quite convenient in a way, because it leaves John free to travel to Maine to claim his inheritance.
No sooner is he off the train though than he’s hassled by a trio of youths, one of whom in particular seems intent on dissuading John from settling in the town. Although John doesn’t know why, we have seen, in the opening prologue, the bloody, ritualistic murder of an entire family by a crazed minister who has been dabbling in ancient religious mythology. The only survivor of this massacre was a tiny baby who — you guessed it — just happens to be John, hidden from its mad father by an older brother. John’s highly-strung mother is actually his aunt, and the sister of the crazed minister who somehow managed to crucify himself after doing the same to most of the rest of his family. Which kind of puts a damper on the birthday celebrations.
Undeterred by his welcome, John meets up with Judson (Jaiden Kaine) the estate lawyer, who takes him out to the farm. After eighteen years of neglect it’s showing signs of wear and tear although, strangely, it still has a functioning telephone line, electricity and water. The plot grinds to a halt at this point as we see endless shots of John exploring the decrepit homestead. Every couple of minutes or so, director Colin Theys has a shadowy figure flit across the screen or peer at John from behind a doorway, and at first it adds a nice touch of creepiness to the proceedings, but after the fourth or fifth time it just gets old. During his explorations John comes across a squatter hiding in a cupboard (as you do). Squatters are usually smelly, slovenly unkempt dropouts from society, but this one is a sexy, fragrant young girl called Emma (Magda Apanowicz). She proves to be a little evasive under John’s questioning, and we never do really get to learn a lot about Emma, such as why she’s squatting in a spooky old house and why she’s been there so long. This could be because she’s a character created for the movie who never appeared in Michael Laimo’s source novel.
Anyway, things plod along with strange and unnerving incidents that are familiar to anyone who’s seen more than a couple of haunted house movies in their time happening every few minutes. There’s nothing particularly frightening about any of it, given that this is a TV movie, and it all grows a bit stale until the third act when things pick up considerably. The conclusion is at least fairly original and pretty much ties up all the loose ends, while leaving no obvious way open for an ill-advised sequel. Dead Souls plays more like an old-fashioned ghost story than a modern horror, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and for a TV movie it’s pretty good, but the lack of budget inevitably means that it can’t really compare to more than the most modest of theatrical releases.