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On his 18th birthday, a young man learns he was adopted when he inherits a farm in Maine--which has been abandoned for years since his natural family died at the hands of his father, the local preacher. When he moves in, sinister forces trapped in the home begin to resurface and bring to light frightening details and revelations about his past.
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Not bad, actually. I was somewhat surprised, and at times impressed, by the movie.
The story takes places on a rural farm in Maine where, 17 years earlier, Benjamin Conroy killed his wife, teenage son and daughter (and the family dog), before crucifying himself in the family barn. His dying words, as the sheriff walks in and discovers the crime scene, are, "One more," which we assume is in reference to the baby the teenage son had hidden in the basement when the father's murder spree began.
Cut to present day and 18-year-old John Petrie receives a letter in the mail telling him he's just inherited the Conroy family farm in Maine, and if he can come see the place, the lawyer overseeing the estate can get it sold and have the business done with.
John, however, has no idea what's going on. John Petrie's father is dead, but his mother is alive and well--that is, she's alive. She's self-medicating on anti-anxiety meds and keeps a very close watch on her son, but still, their last name is Petrie, not Conroy. When he confronts her with the news of what's happened, Mother Petrie faints. When she wakes up later, she's in the hospital with a doctor telling her 18-year-old son she'll be kept for a few days under observation. Curious John figures this is a good time to take a train to Maine and see what's all this about a family farm he's inherited.
The farm consists of 125 acres, a big house, a barn, a tool shed, and some local punks who try to warn John away from the place. It also comes with its very own squatter, Emma, who has been staying there for a few days. After all, the place was empty, she didn't think anyone would mind. John decides she can stay one more day, but he's signing the papers to sell the place tomorrow.
This is when the weird begins. There are spirits in the Conroy house that have, until John appears, been quiet. But the return of the prodigal son has awakened them and they have unfinished business from a while back.
Going into the story clean, I was able to enjoy the movie as an experience all its own without the shadow of the novel hanging over it, and that was probably for the best in this instance. I mean, it's a made for TV movie; no matter how in depth and grand the events of the novel, the made for TV version is probably not going to be quite so spectacular. Best to just watch the movie and judge it on its own merits. If I don't know how things played out in the book, I can't compare, and I can't be disappointed.
Being a big haunted house fanatic, I think the movie played up the ghostly aspects of the story very well. Director Colin Theys (who was responsible for the abysmal BANSHEE!!!) definitely knows how to frame and execute a shot for maximum creep-effect. And just as the tricks are about to become overplayed, he switches gears and we're safely in act three where the story has developed past the point of needing to rely on shadowy figures and such. I think the narrative began to fall apart and become muddled a little in the third act, but the movies gets points for everything up to that point.
Jesse James (THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT) as John Petrie had a few weak moments in the third act, but he did a passable job up to then, while Magda Apanowicz's (also in THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT) Emma showed just enough aloofness to be mysterious, but still managed to express some connection with John. The question of her background lingers throughout the movie like just another ghost, and it definitely adds another layer to the story and the way the characters interact. A few times we're even forced to question whether she's real or not.
Director Theys and writer John Doolan have come a LONG way from BANSHEE!!!, however--not having read the book yet--I'm not sure who to blame for that clunky act 3. I thought the bones were there for a really decent backstory, but it felt as if everything was being rushed to meet the allotted time for the TV movie. I think--hope anyway--that there was just too much story for a 90 minute movie and maybe another 15-20 minutes would have helped smooth things out a lot.
If nothing else, Theys has given me a small amount of faith that he's got some real talent and, given the right story, can actually accomplish something interesting. Also, it's nice to know I'm not the only horror writer out there who's able to write about more than just zombies. Laimo gives us a familiar backdrop with new and original details and now I'm even more curious to see how these events play out on the page, where time, space, effects budgets and acting skill aren't a factor. I'm hoping the book is even better, but if 90 minutes is all you have to spare, this movie's worth a look, so long as you don't mind getting a little confused in the end.
Johnny Petrie (Jesse James) inherits an old farmhouse on his 18th birthday from a family he didn't even know he had. Tired of living under the thumb of his overprotective aunt (Geraldine Hughes), he decides to visit his boyhood home and solve the mystery as to who he really is. Upon arriving, he discovers his father (J.H. Torrance Downes) was a local preacher in the small Maine town. He went crazy one night and murdered his entire family, leaving the restless spirits of his mother (Elizabeth Irene) and siblings (Kyle Donnery and Bridget Megan Clark) trapped in the house for eternity.
"Dead Souls" is an effective little supernatural thriller from Chiller directing regular Colin Theys. He does as well here with the haunted house genre as he did with the zombie genre when he helmed Steve Niles' "Remains." That might not win many over, but I thought the Las Vegas-set living dead tale was an entertaining entry into the world of Saturday Night straight-to-cable B-movies.
Things tend to happen quickly in a 90-minute movie based on a 295-page novel. Yes, character development in the movie feels a bit rushed and it would have been nice to get them a little more fleshed out, but overall I thought director Theys and screenwriter John Doolan did what they could with the time they had allotted.
Just like most low-budget horror films, "Dead Souls" has one big genre actor it relies on to help bring in fans. In this case, we have Bill Moseley ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre II," "The Devil's Rejects") playing the retired town sheriff who's privy to the dark secret the old farmhouse and its property holds. Moseley adds a level of legitimacy to the movie, as I'm sure filmmakers were counting on.
"Dead Souls" is presented in 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.78:1) and both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo. The picture quality is clear, clean, and easy on the eyes. Whether you watch it utilizing the 5.1 surround sound or 2.0 stereo, there are plenty of creepy bumps, screams, and jolting sound effects to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat in anticipation of jumping through the roof.
Special features on the Blu-ray release of "Dead Souls" include commentary provided by Director Colin Theys, Producer Andrew Gernhard, and Screenwriter John Doolan. There's also a tour of the set guided by Director Theys. Bloopers and TV spots round out the bonus material.
Whether it was his intentions or not, "Dead Souls" writer Michael Laimo did a great job warning audiences what happens when you lose faith in God and begin to think you need something else as a religious supplement to the Bible. I'm speaking as a movie critic who happens to be a Christian, of course. This shows the tragedy the fallen preacher's family suffered all because he didn't fully believe and rely on God to take care of them and their eternal souls. To make a long explanation short, it highlights the dangers of mixing cult and Biblical beliefs together.
I'm a sucker for ghost stories and, while not being as solid as theatrical releases like "Sinister" and others, "Dead Souls" still delivers enough scares to make it worth the viewer's time. The film does leave a little too much to the imagination sometimes when it comes to minor plot points. It relies on the audience's common sense to come into play and fill in what we don't see transpire onscreen. However, if you can get past its weak points and just enjoy the movie for what it is, you'll find a decent little thriller here to keep you entertained on a Saturday night at the house.