A Serious Movie, by David Bax
Often, when someone uses the word “pretentious,” they are simply deriding something for being high-minded. In reality, the word only really applies when something that is not high-minded tries to convince you that it is. That’s the biggest, though certainly not the only, problem with Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein’s 6 Souls (the second biggest problem is that awful title).
Julianne Moore plays Cara Jessup, a psychiatrist whose job is apparently to testify in legal cases that there’s no such thing as multiple personality disorder. That may seem like quite a narrow job description but it quite coincidentally provides perfect irony when she meets a young man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with a vaguely Southern accent who is paralyzed from the waist down who – before her eyes – becomes a young man with a vaguely East coast accent who is colorblind. Those personalities (named David and Adam, respectively) are just the first two we’ll see embodied by Meyers. Feel free to take a guess at what the total number ends up being.
With its autumnal setting and a murky, cold, blue color palette that will be familiar to those who have seen any cosmetically dour psychological thriller in the last five to ten years, 6 Souls is dying to make clear to you that this is some capital-S Serious Stuff. It’s always cloudy and there are never enough lights turned on in any given room. It’s a world inhabited by no one but characters in movies seeking a shortcut to emotional weight.
Oddly, some of that weight – though more of the philosophical than emotional kind – does seem to be present early on. Cara’s husband was murdered three years prior. That shocking and senseless act has led both her father (Jeffery DeMunn) and her young daughter (Brooklynn Proulx) to give up their belief in God. Meanwhile, it seems to have brought Cara even more in touch with hers. There’s a lot of potential in the contrast between the most skeptical doctor being the most willing believer. The motif becomes even more present once it occurs to you that perhaps the only trait shared by all of Meyers’ personalities is an inquisitiveness about religion.
While that thematic payoff is being promised, a more basically intriguing revelation seems to be building with the plot. Are the people into whom Meyers transforms the actual souls of people who have died? What does this man have to do with the odd symbols she finds painted on houses in the hometown of one of those possible dead souls? And is all this in any way connected to the flu and the rash that seem to be going around among the members of the cast?
Tantalizing as this jumble of ideas and story are in the early going, they are not quite enough to overcome the corny dialogue and unimaginative jump scares that overrun the film like an infestation of termites. Buying into all that happens in 6 Souls would require an almost superhuman suspension of disbelief. Cara’s brother Stephen (Nate Corddry), for instance, is able to do things with video editing software that the makers of Avid and Final Cut Pro could only dream of.
Meyers, an actor generally restrained by a limited and unconvincing set of tools, is the only one playing at the fevered pitch the overheated B movie deserves. Everyone else – veteran character actor DeMunn is particularly laughable – is taking a cue from Mårlind and Stein, buying into the film as some high drama. In the third act, when the reveals start rolling in and the themes are either muddled or forgotten, you’ll find yourself fondly recalling the time 6 Souls had more questions than answers.