Review: SOULMATE (2014){0}

First-time feature writer/director Axelle Carolyn is certainly no stranger to dark fiction. In addition to her literary career (which includes columns at Fangoria and a book on modern horror cinema called It Lives Again!) to a trio of short films (The Last Post, Hooked, and The Halloween Kid) and a handful of acting gigs in between (check out her enthusiastically nasty performance in Centurion) – this is a woman who knows how to read, write, and appreciate the horror genre. Clearly I’m a friend as well as a fan, so perhaps there’s a small sliver of bias when I assert that Ms. Carolyn’s debut feature is pretty darn impressive.

What’s most interesting about Soulmate is that its writer/director is a serious fan of hack’em up slash-fests that are knee-deep in carnage and/or crazy monsters – yet her first film is most assuredly a “supernatural drama” in every sense of the phrase. I offer this term – supernatural drama – twice (and perhaps even italicized) to underline how refreshing it is to see low-budget indie ghost stories that focus almost exclusively on mood, setting, and character, but also to make things clear: if you want a slam-bang, non-stop extravaganza of jolts, kills, and jump scares, Soulmate is not going to fit the bill.

Those who can appreciate a calm and classy 100-minute ghost story about a suicidal woman who returns to an eerie family mansion after losing her husband in a terrible accident, however, will probably find a lot to enjoy here. Anna Walton’s consistently excellent performance gives Soulmate a spark of energy during even its chattiest scenes; the haunted house angle works more than well enough if you’re willing to turn off the lights and play along with some essential/conventional moments of “hallway wandering” and “hidden room discoveries;” and (once we figure out the source of poor Audrey’s hauntings) that’s when Ms. Carolyn’s unexpectedly relaxed, natural, and insightful screenplay starts to shine.

And therein lies the beauty of the horror genre: it can wrap a bunch of fascinating ideas inside of a ferocious French bloodbath; it can make you look at life, death,and mortality in a new light; it can simply aim to make you jump out of your seat a few times; or it can work as a complement to a mellow and contemplative character drama that offers a few worthwhile insights on love, loss, mourning, and healing. At 100 minutes in length and boasting considerably more dialogue than basic “boo” scares, Soulmate might not be a perfect “Saturday night” horror film, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive an accomplishment.

Of note: the BBFC demanded that 16 seconds be removed from the “attempted suicide” scene that opens the film. Rather than soften a moment that is clearly meant to be shocking, tragic, and legitimately disturbing, the director opted to remove the entire two-and-a-half-minute sequence. Speaking as someone who has seen Axelle’s true version of Soulmate, I find this artistic censorship nothing short of repulsive. Yes, I love horror flicks and yes, Axelle is a friend, but if you focus solely on Soulmate, one cannot help but agree that the film’s point, tone, and impact have been irrevocably altered. Whether or not you enjoy Soulmate is beside the point. The BBFC censors are not directors, screenwriters, or editors – and they should not be allowed to “outlaw” somebody’s art because it has the audacity to look at suicide with an honest and unflinching eye.

Whew. Anyway. Soulmate! Cool, calm, classy, low-key, well-written, eerie vibe, great leading lady.

Shame about all that government-mandated censorship though.


Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)