“6 Souls” suffers from erratic shifts in personality

by Alec Seymour

“6 Souls” tells the story of a widowed psychiatrist (Julianne Moore) who has become jaded about her work. When an unusual patient (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with multiple personality disorder crosses her path, she starts to question her science. As her relationship with him grows, she realizes more is at work than psychology, and must reassess her stance on faith and the supernatural in order to combat an ancient evil.

If it sounds like there are too many things going on in that synopsis, then you’d be right. It seems as though there are several different movies being stuffed in “6 Souls.” While the plot could have made a very twisted, involving experience in the hands of a more skilled writer, unfortunately screenwriter Michael Cooney cannot balance the disparate themes. He choppily navigates transitions from psychological thriller, to a dilemma of faith, to a horror movie about an ancient hillbilly evil, resulting in a movie that has as many different souls as its title suggests.

During the first moments of “6 Souls,” one thing becomes blindingly clear—neither its star nor its directors think this is a good movie. The first act is stuffed to the brim with tricks to keep the audience interested, but all suffering from a lack of substance. There are long shots that pan around every important detail in a room, lingering shots that slowly move down an empty hallway, and abundant heavy, jarring sound effects. They’re trying to force the viewer’s interest, and it’s really uncomfortable. As for Moore, she tries to infuse her character with so much personality and so many welcoming quirks that whatever connection she offers to an audience is phoned-in. Again, it’s really uncomfortable, which is sad, because it’s no secret that she’s a great actress.

Had the directors and actors relaxed a little, the first half-hour could have been genuinely enjoyable. There are a number of good jump scares, the tone is often accurately foreboding, and Rhys Meyers puts in a committed performance, showing off his ability to work with accents and voice modulation. He goes from Brooklyn street-tough, to Southern church-goer, to an eight year old girl without dropping voice once. It’s very impressive and lends a needed sense of authenticity to the movie.

A notable scene between him and Frances Conroy, his supposed mother, shows how good the movie could have been. It is subtle, and builds intensity—no fancy shots, no thumps, no clichés. Moments like this sporadically surface, but once the film moves from a psych hospital to an ancient witch’s woodland shack, the effect vanishes. The final act suffers from forced twists and platitudes that start out bizarre, but end up bland and overdone.

“6 Souls” was released in the UK in 2010 under the name “Shelter,” but was shelved for two years before coming to the US, and it’s easy to see why. Its critical run was panned, and it never generated buzz enough for anyone stateside to even know it existed. The unfulfilled potential frustrates is the most frustrating. As it stands, “6 Souls” has a personality disorder to match its antagonist, but it’s not worth navigating the multiple personalities to find the few flashes of quality.

Alec Seymour is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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