[Review] 'The Soul Collector' is an Engrossing and Original Concept that Steals the Attention of the Viewer
In the wonderful world of horror, it’s sometimes difficult to find films that really capture a sense of originality...
...There are longer periods between films that actually inspire a raised brow and get me invested from the film’s first moments. Not long ago, I had a very interesting conversation with a local filmmaker about why he didn’t like the horror genre. His reasons weren’t what I expected. He lamented that he finds horror films lazy, in that they rely too much on old tropes and that horror filmmakers have become comfortable with falling in line with low standards. I counter argued that all genres are guilty of this, but that’s really besides the point. What I took away was that in “some capacity” he’s right. It’s up to the horror community to up our expectations and for filmmakers to find new and daring ways to keep horror fresh. Writer/director Harold Hölscher and his new film, The Soul Collector, attempts to remind us that there are still many imaginative ways to tell an original story in our genre.
This folklore heavy tale follows a family of three, who move into a farming house just after the previous owner passed away. An elderly man who goes by the name of Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) once worked for the owner and still wishes to work on the land. With seemingly earnest intentions, he introduces himself to the family and offers his assistance to them, if they ever require an extra working hand. Each member of the family has a different way of perceiving him and tension spreads throughout the house. Lazarus has a dark secret that, despite his intentions, is dangerous to those around him. As we uncover his past, we learn that he is on the verge of losing all control and will do anything to protect his secret.
The Soul Collector tells a unique tale that not only impressed me with its storytelling finesse, but also with its ability to manipulate our sympathies. The character of Lazarus is one of the best developed characters in a horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time. I found myself see-sawing on how I felt about him from moment to moment. In many films that deal with questionable characters, there is a black and white sort of question as to whether they are good or evil. The Soul Collector does away with such broad stroke, heavy handed story mechanics and paint Lazarus with a finer paint brush. His character always exists somewhere in between good and evil and sometimes temporarily crossing over to either side. While not entirely human, he represents human qualities. We all want to do good, but sometimes, out of selfishness or poor judgement, we wind up committing less than good actions. Lazarus represents this part of humanity, and it comes through in the film incredibly well. While his character is particularly well developed, his relationships with the other characters are less convincing. It’s not due to their performances, but rather the amount of time they have on screen. The relationship between Lazarus and Mary (Keita Luna) is one of genuine sweetness, but they are never given enough time to develop any real connection other than a few brief scenes. It’s a shame, because their relationship ends up being important to the plot, but the climax of the film fizzles out because it doesn’t feel earned. It has its moments, but it never reaches the emotional heights of its good-natured intentions.
As a fan of all things folklore and cryptid, The Soul Collector scratches an itch that rarely gets scratched. The director is from South Africa and he’s undoubtedly taken inspiration from local folklore. Hölscher has written a remarkable story, even if the script itself has a few issues. It’s refreshing to see a horror film with such originality and it mostly stays away from common horror tropes and clichés. There are a few jump scares, but they happen near the beginning and don’t stick around long enough to cheapen the film. The actual “horror” of the film mostly comes from the terrible situation Lazarus finds himself in. You witness his panic, fear and eventually acceptance to a curse that haunts him. There is a synergetic mix of the film being scary and emotionally moving at the same time.
In terms of aesthetics and production, the film is quite a looker. The opening shots are hauntingly hypnotic, as we get our first look at Lazarus and his “gift”. Lighting plays a pretty big role too, as many times it needed to be just right when striking a balance of what to reveal in the mysterious bag that Lazarus carries around. The imagery here can be truly terrifying at times. There are also well panned shots of the surrounding outdoors and even though they merely serve as transitions, it still grounds you in the area they live. The film looks top notch in its production and nothing about it looks cheap. I think this is a film that will age well, as the effects (while limited) are practical for the most part. It also has a timeless feel, as all of the film takes place either by the house or its wooded surroundings.
For a directorial debut, The Soul Collector is a very polished and spirited film. The story is engrossing, and I applaud Hölscher for holding horror to a high standard. He understands how important it is to have a tight story. In a genre where originality isn’t always easy to come by, this films certainly stands out. Lazarus is a character that I won’t soon forget, and the film really does a phenomenal job exploring his turmoil. Unfortunately, the supporting characters aren’t given enough time to mean much to us, so we aren’t as invested in what happens to them. Still, it does plenty right and is definitely worth checking out. Highly recommended.
The Soul Collector arrives on Digital and VOD June 12th from Shout! Studios.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth