Thursday, August 7, 2014

'Soulmate' (2013) directed by Axelle Carolyn

Soulmate is the feature film debut of Axelle Carolyn, best known as the star of 2008's highly underrated, absolutely bonkers Doomsday.  That film was a cage match between about ten different genres, all bloodily duking it out in post-apocalyptic Scotland.  Given this pedigree I half-expected Soulmates to follow the same aesthetic - so it's with surprise that it goes in completely the other direction.  This is an elegant little ghost story that does a lot with very little, a fine example of minimalist film-making.

Our heroine is violinist Audrey (Anna Walton).  She's recovering from a recent suicide attempt following the death of her husband and has decided to get away from her old life for a couple of weeks.  To this end she's rented a remote cottage in the Brecon Beacons with the intent of hiding herself away from the outside world.  The cottage is beautiful, and owners, the Zellabys seem like lovely, helpful village folk.

But as the hour hand inches towards midnight Audrey starts hearing strange noises. Lights mysteriously turn on and off, windows open and there's weird creaking noises coming from the box room.  Audrey goes to the Zellabys with her fears and they brush her off "Oh there's just a load of old furniture in there.  It's probably bats. *ominous change in tone* We don't go into the box room".

A 'mystery box' containing god-only-knows-what is one of my favourite cheesy cinematic devices.  It's the kind of thing that gets me jigging up and down in my seat excitedly muttering "C'mooon... what's in the box!?".  So it's a bit of a let down when what's in side is actually a load of old furniture.  Well that and a ghost called Doug.

Considering the first act is 'yer bog standard spook story, replete with jump scares and a frightened woman wandering around an ill-lit haunted house, the rest of the film is pleasantly askew.  Douglas (Tom Wisdom) is a pretty personable ghost, possessed (sorrywith deadpan (sorry) humour and a rather funereal (sorrytemperament.  Douglas and Audrey bond over the loss of their significant others, and both can sympathise with the idea of suicide (though Douglas' suicide attempt was slightly more successful).  Soon the two grow close and maybe, just maybe, falling a little bit in love.

At this point it feels like the film is settling into a modern remake of Joseph Mankiewicz's 1947 classic The Ghost and Mrs Muir.  Both films have heroines whose ability to deal with the intrusion of the supernatural into their lives borders on superhuman, both are able to quickly get over their fears and are able to start chatting away quite pleasantly with a dead man - even casually bickering with them.  

The biggest feather in Soulmate's cap is that this story is never less than compelling. Axelle Carolyn, working from her own script, has produced a compact, concise example of storytelling that never overstretches itself.  There are only four characters in the film and their motivations, suspicions and behaviour are crystal clear throughout.  But the real hook is the sympathetic, chatty 'normal' ghost at the centre of the story.  We're as interested as Audrey is as she gently probes him as to what it's like to be dead, what he can do and what his life is like.

Furthermore, as a directorial feature debut Carolyn seriously impresses.  There's a show-don't-tell mentality underlying most of the early scenes, resulting in quite long stretches of dialogue-free action where it's left to us to deduce what's going on.  Through a combination of smart cinematography that draws our eye to important elements in the frame we can work out that she's lost her husband, that she's tried to commit suicide and that she's consumed by guilt without even a smidge of exposition.

Unfortunately long after we've established what Audrey's deal is the film does slip into unnecessarily clunky exposition.  Oh well, at least it tried.  Still, Soulmate is an objectively good looking movie - using the Brecon Beacons as an austere, desolate and lonely backdrop.  Carolyn does similarly interesting things with the visual evolution of her heroine.  For the first act she's so pale and monochromatic that I was suspicious there was Sixth Sense style twist coming up.  Instead, it cleverly places her in the same aesthetic postcode as her ghost buddy, linking the two visually. This isn't some intricate Kubrickian masterpiece, but there's enough tiny moments of craftsmanship to make it worthwile. After all, if I can tell the film-makers care it makes me care.

Soulmate builds up a decent head of goodwill early on; our two leads have obvious chemistry and we're never quite sure where the story is going to go next.  So it's a bit of shame that the final act devolves into cliché, abandoning the interesting tone so painstakingly established for a typical horror genre ending that does a bit of a disservice to the rest of the film.  Also, while Wisdom and Walton never falter, the supporting performances from Tanya Myers and Nick Brimble as the couple who know more than they're letting on gradually become a bit too Hammer Horror hammy.

Thankfully, quibbles like this don't ruin the film.  Soulmate is an impressive achievement from an untested director maximising the impact of a (presumably) limited budget.  So it's a bit disappointing that a year after release it has but five reviews on the iMDB and nobody I've spoken to has even heard of it.  This is mildly flawed, but good enough that it should be better known.  Bordering on a hidden gem.


Soulmate is released on DVD 11th August

Tags: , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “'Soulmate' (2013) directed by Axelle Carolyn”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights