Soul Searcher DVD Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
Released by Wysiwyg films
Directed and Produced by Neil Oseman
Written by Neil Oseman and James Clarke
2005, Region 2 (PAL), 98 minutes, Rated 12 (UK)
DVD released on August 14th, 2006
Ray Bullock Jnr as Joe Fallow
Katrina Cooke as Heather Robson
Lara Greenway as Luca Callister
Chris Hatherall as Gary
Jonny Lewis as Ezekiel
A J Nicol as Rufus Danté
Richard Brake as Van Beuren
Soul Searcher is the story of lonely, awkward, everyman Joe Fallow, who works nights as a street sweeper. Joe is hopelessly in love with Heather and when he finishes work in the early hours, spends his time hanging out with his friend, Gary, in the coffee shop where Heather works, bemoaning the fact that he’s utterly unable to tell her how he feels.
Then one day Joe has a chance encounter with the Grim Reaper himself, who offers Joe the job of becoming his replacement. With portals between this world and the next appearing all over town and all manner of strange monsters seeping through, Joe has his work cut out, especially when he begins to fully understand the magnitude of what the mysterious Danté is planning to do. And there’s a chance that saving the world will mean losing the one person in it he really loves.
Soul Searcher is a romance/fantasy/adventure film about ordinary people who become unlikely heroes. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s got a load of monsters and fight scenes in it and most of the time it’s a success across all genres. One of the most striking things about Soul Searcher is its combination of British and American sensibilities. The characters and the dialogue couldn’t be more British — everything is under-played, barely mentioned, and skirted-over. Joe is gangly, geeky and poor with women. He learns to fight under the training of the Grim Reaper but he still jumps around shouting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” when he wins his first fight. The subject matter — a clash of worlds, bounty hunters, demons and banshees are all very much the fair of bigger budget American films and TV series. Soul Searcher is a bit like a very British version of the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". It’s an unusual thing to see coming from this country, where we get a lot of cockney gangsters, grim northerners, period pieces and Richard Curtis romantic comedies. Soul Searcher is an extremely ambitious venture bearing in mind it was made on a micro budget, with an unpaid cast and crew.
As a romance Soul Searcher is touching, and effective. A number of points in the film left me very moved and on the verge of tears and I attribute this to the subtle, intelligent script and the understated and utterly convincing performances of the two romantic leads. Dialogue between the two had the right blend of awkward Englishness and painful small talk. A conversation in the coffee shop where Joe can think of nothing else to say to Heather than to ask her what’s in a caramel slice is both funny and really rather sad. This sense of the unsaid which is strong throughout the film makes the infrequent heartfelt speeches standout as all the more poignant; the ghostly hugging moments (which reminded me a little of Edward Scissorhands) were completely gorgeous, and the “you blind me” speech was so perfectly pitched and delivered with such quiet sincerity as to make those well known lines from more seasoned romantic leads like Hugh Grant look cheesy and artificial in comparison.
The very strong chemistry between Heather and Joe, and the fact that both are such likable characters meant I really was willing things to turn out well for them throughout the film. A J Nicol as Danté and Jonny Lewis as Ezekiel are both also effectively damaged and grim (respectively), and Chris Hatherall as Gary does as good job as the comic relief. I felt that Lara Greeway as Luca was a bit of a let down. Although some of her lines may have been partly to blame, she looked awkward and just didn’t have the screen presence this part demands. Luca should have been achingly cool — women should want to be her, men should want to screw her. Maybe it’s the dodgy hair, or maybe her costume was just too much of a nod in the direction of Lara Croft but for me she just wasn’t cool enough by half.
Fantasy stories rely on rules. Soul Searcher develops its own mythology surrounding the origins of the Grim Reaper, the way a Reaper works and the structure of heaven and hell. Unfortunately inconsistencies and plot holes have slipped through, and for the most part they’re things that could have been avoided. It’s hard to give you examples without including spoilers (and to deny you the opportunity to pick holes in a film is to deny you some of the fun of watching!) but there’s a lack of internal consistency at points.
Soul Searcher was made on a micro-budget of £26,000, and for that it looks bloody great. The monsters are not dissimilar to those from "Buffy" or "Charmed" and the digital effects (the portals and ‘umbilical’ effects) look like they belong to a much more expensive piece. Watching the documentary on the making of Soul Searcher I was impressed at the ingenuity used to create some of these visuals. The train scene, in particular, looks great in the film and I really was surprised to find out how it was done. The fight scenes are also well choreographed and look good, although there were too many of them for my tastes. The stop-motion animation that’s used two or three times, however, stands out like a sore thumb. It’s reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s work and its striking stylistic difference makes it look out of place next to the shadowy realism of the rest of the film.
Much of Soul Searcher is set at night and the film has frequent elements of the gothic about it. The dark muted colours of the costumes, the loners and misfits that make up the characters and the graffiti-covered back streets and empty warehouse all add to this (set against the light and the warmth of the coffee shop making this the one place Joe can feel at home). The beautiful orchestral score is also a real bonus for a film made so cheaply.
I’m a little bit in love with this film. I feel a sense of affection and endearment towards it that’s lingered long after it finished. But when you’re in love you must be prepared for the object of your affections to have a whole range of imperfections and flaws. You have to be willing, not just to accept these imperfections, but to embrace them. I just don’t know if I’m ready to make that kind of commitment with Soul Searcher. Still, it’s a film I’m glad I own and which I know I’ll watch again. Get it for a night in with your girlfriend or your boyfriend (either way, you can pretend you’re making a compromise). It’s a great achievement for the money and it’s genuinely a very enjoyable film to watch.
Soul Searcher has an amazing extras package that it’s really worth looking through at your leisure.
Going to hell: The making of Soul Searcher. Feature length documentary. This film was four years in the making and was rife with problems. This documentary is a really interesting watch for those interested in Soul Searcher and for anyone who’s interested in film making in general. In a way, watching this makes you realise what an incredible achievement, and what an ordeal, making Soul Searcher was. The documentary spans years, from early enthusiastic script editing sessions to filming the final shots. Director Neil Oseman is let down time and time again by cast and crew and struggles to find the budget he needs for the film. None of the cast and crew was paid for their involvement in the film and a number of them actually ended up investing in it. Oseman’s tenacity and determination for the project while things are falling apart around him means you’re really routing for him. This documentary is entertaining enough as a stand alone piece so I urge you to watch it.
Lo tec FX featurette. Neil Oseman on how some of the effects were made using his computer and impromptu techniques like the "sugar and hairdryer" effect or the classic "milk in a fishtank". Enlightening and gives you an idea of how much attention was paid to detail in Soul Searcher.
Deconstructing Props featurette. The props makers explain how things were done (again, household objects play a major part). It’s quite impressive to see how closely many of them turned out to the original concept drawings.
Fighting Talk Featurette. Short doc from the trainer and choreographer about how the fights were done.
Lighting masterclass. Info about how to use lighting to make shots more filmic. Great for anyone making a film, still pretty interesting for everyone else.
Train sequence videomatic (which you can watch with or without commentary). Oseman filmed and edited the train sequence from the film with cartoons, models and a toy train before making the actual scene, basically to see if it was going to work and to get a feel for the pacing. Short, but interesting.
Sound design interactive feature. Cool feature where you can skip between different layers of sound during one of the fight sequences. There are subtitles on each layer explaining bit of info about how things were done. These subs were a bit small and moved a bit too fast for me to be able to read comfortably, unfortunately.
Concept art galleries. Drawings and the designs of the characters and props done before casting. Gives a bit of further insight into the characters. The fact that the drawings are all pretty cool (reminded me a little of some of the artwork in Neil Gaiman’s "Sandman" comics) also doesn’t hurt.
Photo Gallery. Massive gallery of still from the making of the film.
Fairly bog standard outtakes.
19 deleted scenes. Definitely worth watching because they give you a bit more insight into some of the characters. There’s a long-ish exposition scene between Joe and the Ezekiel, for example, which goes some way to explaining why the Grim Reaper isn’t completely rushed off his feet trying to catch up with everyone around the world who’s died.
Commentaries. Two commentaries, one from the director and the other from the cast and crew, both worth listening to.
Video and Audio:
Soul Searcher is mainly set at night time so shots are dark and shadowy. It was shot on DV but looks quite like film. The colours are clear and the edges “true”. There was perhaps an overuse of blue lighting — when I was taking the screen grabs for this review I had to make a concerted effort not to choose lots of shots that were basically just black and blue (and all the night club shots are black and red) - but this was due to a conscious design choice made by the director rather than any lack of quality.
Has Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound but I have an inferior television set so I couldn’t experience the delights of this. Beware that the music over the menu is very loud compared to the rest of the film. You might also find you need to play with the volume a little during the film because the actors don’t always speak terribly clearly and I wasn’t able to catch every single line.