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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Soul Survivors (2001)

"You feel alone in a world that you don't understand. You don't know who to trust. But you're trying very hard, I know that."
- Jude (Luke Wilson)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: February 26, 2002

Stars: Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Eliza Dushku, Melissa Sagemiller
Other Stars: Luke Wilson, Angela Featherstone
Director: Steve Carpenter

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, sexuality and language
Run Time: 01h:25m:31s
Release Date: February 26, 2002
UPC: 012236123514
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D- DAB+ B-

DVD Review

Every time I watch a movie as hopeless as Soul Survivors, I cannot help but feel pity for all the struggling screenwriters in the world. Many of these talented individuals are likely sitting on brilliant screenplays that will never grace the silver screen, because insulting garbage like Soul Survivors seems to be what audiences want to see nowadays. Starving screenwriters, I write this review in your honor. I hope that someday you receive the recognition you deserve.The story of Soul Survivors revolves around Cassie (Sagemiller) who, like most youngsters leaving home for the first time to go off to college, wants one more night of partying before she says goodbye to her friends. After drinking an abundance of alcohol, Cassie crashes her car, resulting in the death of her long-time boyfriend Sean (Affleck). Paralyzed with guilt and plagued with disturbing hallucinations, Cassie begins to lose her grip on reality. As she plummets into a state of madness, she struggles to discover who she can trust, what she can believe, and why her life is falling apart.I will not waste anybody's time discussing more details. I will just say that I initially wanted to review this outrage by writing seven hundred adjectives that are synonymous with the word "atrocious." Readers who are unfamiliar with the story line may think I am being excessively harsh, but I am actually being quite lenient. It did not bother me that the entire concept was heisted from a far superior film, Jacob's Ladder; I was not even insulted that the filmmakers tried to mimic every nook and cranny. What I found unforgivable is that Soul Survivors rips off everything about Jacob's Ladder, and still fails miserably at creating any of its drama or suspense. Writer/director Steve Carpenter is the man primarily responsible for this madness. His direction is like that of a child with a short attention span. The editing and camera movements continually become more and more frenzied until everything bursts into a montage of chaos. The last 10 minutes is not unlike the most frenetic rock video I have ever seen. What's more is that Carpenter has no idea how to effectively extract valid performances from his actors. Luke Wilson plays a priest about as believably as would Barney the purple dinosaur play an axe murderer. Eliza Dushku offers close to nothing in the way of acting prowess, but it doesn't really matter in a movie like this. After all, she is really hot and looks oh so cool when flicking a cigarette. Newcomer Melissa Sagemiller gives the only acceptable performance. She brings a somewhat innocent charm to Cassie, and may prove to be a genuine talent in the hands of a more capable director.Soul Survivors is billed as a horror movie, yet there is nothing genuinely scary or suspenseful about it. Instead, Carpenter has gone for cheap scares, where he attempts to jolt viewers out of their seats with excessively loud noises. The worst part is, he fails to succeed even at that. A gunshot signaling the start of a swim meet proves to be the most startling moment. Carpenter also goes as far as to try something that I call the reverse scare. This is where the soundtrack is at peak volume, and just when something pops out of the darkness, the audio comes to a dead halt. I have no idea how he came up with this nonsense.Bottom line, just how bad is Soul Survivors? So bad, that when it ended I immediately wanted to write this review by striking my keyboard with a sledgehammer. Yet, the fact that I was laughing throughout is one redeeming quality that prevents it from being completely worthless. While certainly not the filmmakers' intention, my constant laughter did help ease the pain I was going through while watching this otherwise waste of time. Perhaps Steve Carpenter should start writing and directing comedies. He certainly seems to have a knack for it.

Rating for Style: D-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen image is visually captivating. It is honestly one of the better DVD transfers I have seen, as I could find very little wrong with the picture. The overall presentation is clean and clear, allowing focus on the tiniest details. Intricate patterns and backgrounds showed no signs of shimmering or pixelization. Black level is dead on, and contrast is perfectly balanced with pleasant whites and wonderful shadow delineation in darker scenes. Colors are beautifully saturated throughout, and intentionally subdued when necessary. I noticed no compression artifacts, and film flaws are miniscule. This truly is a stunning visual experience and a DVD transfer that sets a benchmark for all other transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack proves quite sufficient, yet a little restrained. Bass is incredibly deep and clean throughout and proves to be the most satisfying aspect. Fidelity is first rate, with the exception of a few noticeable "pops" in some of the more tranquil scenes. Stereo separation in the front soundstage is seamless and mostly realistic, although panning seems contrived in a few scenes. It is the inconsistency of the rear soundfield that I found most puzzling. The surround speakers appear to be constantly utilized, but subtle effects seem too quiet while the more dynamic effects sound just right. This is a problem that obviously cannot be corrected by simply turning up the volume of the surround speakers. I also felt the soundtrack could have made much better use of split surrounds. The only time I found their presence to be perfect was during the dance club sequence in chapter four. While a minor quibble, the lack of envelopment proves disappointing for a soundtrack that effectively serves its purpose in every other regard.Also offered is an English 2.0 Dolby Surround track, which fails to come close to the 5.1 track in terms of dynamic range.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Book of Shadows-Blair Witch 2, The Ninth Gate, Stir of Echoes, National Lampoon's Van Wilder, The Mangler 2
3 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Melissa Sagemiller
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:45m:31s

Extras Review: For a relatively obscure film, the Soul Survivors DVD boasts ample extras. While none of them are anything to write home about, there certainly is some inventiveness behind them. I found all of them mildly entertaining.First, I must praise the creativity of the menu design. At startup, the viewer is asked to choose between Reality, Dream, and Nightmare. Each selection presents a different, full-motion menu screen, complete with music and images that correspond with the word chosen. This is a nice spin on what could have been just another boring menu structure.The first special feature is Melissa Sagemiller's audio commentary, which only spans seven scenes. Apparently Sagemiller did not have anything interesting to say for more than 20 minutes. She predominately talks about her personal challenges in making the movie, along with other boring and routine topics. If Soul Surviviors really warranted an audio commentary, it might have been more worthwhile to hear from Steve Carpenter. Then, maybe he could give us his version of what in the world he was thinking.Next is a section of three deleted scenes, two of which are nonanamorphic widescreen, the other one full-frame. They do not look anywhere near as beautiful as the main feature in terms of quality, but they do not look bad.The first of two featurettes is a look behind-the-scenes entitled Behind the Death Mask: The Making of Soul Survivors. It is presented in full-frame and runs a whopping four minutes long. All that is offered here is a run-of-the-mill interview session with the actors. Since none of them had seen the finished product yet, they all sound really excited.Next is a much more entertaining featurette called Living Dangerously: The Art of Harvey Danger. This is a short yet intimate chat with Harvey Danger, the band who provides some of the music for the film. This delightful interview with its goofy members is so funny and creative that I will not dare give away even the slightest details. All I will say is that is absolutely hysterical, and by far the best thing about the Soul Survivors DVD.The storyboards section briefly shows animated storyboards set to the corresponding film audio, and a comparison with the final sequence in the film. This is a nice way of viewing storyboards, but I would have also preferred the option to manually view them at my own leisure. What mystified me is that the final sequence comparisons are full-frame, and apparently taken from the PG-13 version.There are two brief theatrical trailers that are as frantic as the film itself, and do not give away the ending, which is more than I can say for a lot of trailers these days. Also included are five trailers for other films in the horror genre.Rounding out the special features are an extensive "production notes" section, as well as filmographies and bios for the cast and crew. Steve Carpenter is not included in this section.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

In a strange way, I suppose Soul Survivors has something for everyone. Some people may laugh, somemay cry, and some may feel the need to use expletives. I personally did all three. In a complete twist of irony, I recommend the Soul Survivors DVD to anyone and everyone, even those who saw the film theatrically. After all, this DVD is "The Killer Cut," which features an R-rated version not seen in theaters. The cover art even draws the viewer in by promising "More blood! More sex! More terror than the theatrical release!" More terror is certainly a fitting statement.


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