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Walk with the Devil

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Lost Souls (R)
New Line Cinema

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan) will probably have to go back to cinematography after his directorial debut with the undisputed failure of Lost Souls. The movie has been sitting on a shelf since 1998 because Kaminski was worried that there were too many horror movies of the same ilk. But all that stalling has only served to bring the movie face to face with its worst enemy: William Friedkin's The Exorcist. If Lost Souls had been released in the midst of Stigmata, Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense, or even The Ninth Gate, it would have merely seemed like a weak link in a chain of mediocre horror films. But because the movie's release falls on the heels of the current, hugely successful re-cut of The Exorcist, there's no getting past an abysmal lack of comparison between a masterpiece of horror and a roll of celluloid schlock.

With more putrid greens than you ever knew existed, Kaminski shows Roger Corman's (Bucket of Blood) leftover influence from the days Kaminski worked as a gaffer for Corman's production company. The story follows former exorcism survivor Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder) on a cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking, Satan-hunting bender. Maya teaches Catholic grade school, spending much of her time with a group of priests who believe that Satan will soon take over the body of a human being and thereby plunge the earth into darkness.

The problem is that Satan isn't really all that busy. Sure the baddest entity of all has his sights set on Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin), a famed New York author and serial killer authority, but Satan's idea of getting busy involves a public restroom plumbing disaster for Maya's horrific pleasure. Maya tries to convince the disbelieving Kelson that he was born of incest, and that the dark master himself will come calling very soon. The movie threatens to get interesting for a split second when Kelson discovers a giant pentagram painted on the ceiling beneath his bed. But the plot twist is immediately squashed when Kelson kills the only person who could explain the symbol's origin.

There are lots of oblique references toward lurking evil that Kaminski applies to mask the lack of action on the screen. Kelson dreams of a book entitled XES, which, we learn from a psychic, represents the devil's zip code (666), and not sex spelled backward. There's also a moment when a group of cockroaches wiggle around on their backs that may be the queasiest scene in the movie. But it's a scene at an elegant New York cocktail party that laughably damns the movie. A menacing gun-wielding attacker gets his neck snapped by a party reveler who obviously serves as a part-time Marine.

Watching Lost Souls is more boring than screening Keanu Reeves latest snooze-fest The Watcher. You might be able to have a little fun picking out all of the stolen little plot threads from Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, End of Days, and even The Exorcist, but that still won't make up for the tedium this movie will inflict.

Winona Ryder has never come close to matching her well-cast performance in the black comedy Heathers. She does however still seem to be trying to find her way back to playing a high school misfit. Ryder would do better to give up smoking, toss the Hi-top Converse "All-Stars," and do a bit of supporting character work la Christian Slater in The Contender. The two actors share a limited range that can work well when confined to lesser roles.

If only Lost Souls had gone straight to video, perhaps no one would have noticed how effortlessly Ryder loses herself in bad movies.

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