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Blackhorse Entertainment presents
Soul Searcher (2006)

"Someone's opening junctions in the barrier between the two dimensions. If we can't...If we don't stop it, it really will be hell on earth."
- Ezekiel (Jonny Lewis)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: October 19, 2006

Stars: Ray Bullock Jr, Katrina Cooke, Lara Greenway, Chris Hatherall, Jonny Lewis, A.J. Nicol, Richard Brake
Director: Neil Oseman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for fantasy violence
Run Time: 01h:38m:29s
Release Date: August 14, 2006
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-C-A- A+

DVD Review

Regardless of how you might feel about a movie like Soul Searcher it's hard to feel anything but general admiration for the arduous process of actually making it. The general idea was audacious enough for a Hollywood product—a twentysomething loser agrees to understudy the Grim Reaper, and finds himself caught up in a plot that will literally unleash hell on earth. So you figure that will require some extensive effects work. Add in martial arts combat, gunfights, swordfights, and a chase on a train, and you have a film that probably should be beyond the capabilities of most indie filmmakers. But, Neil Oseman, the man behind the project, obviously didn't think so, and this DVD not only contains the film, but an in-depth looks at how it was made that any aspiring indie filmmaker might want to take a look at.

The story is simple enough, as mentioned above. Joe Fallow (Ray Bullock, Jr.) is stuck in a meaningless job as a nighttime driver of a street sweeper vehicle. He goes to the same coffee bar, where he hangs out with his pal Gary (Chris Hatherall) and pines after Heather (Katrina Cooke), the girl behind the counter. One night while working, Joe comes across a fight between two men and helps end it. It turns out Joe's helped the Grim Reaper aka Ezekiel (Jonny Lewis), who decides that Joe possesses the spark needed to succeed him, as Ezekiel is dying. Joe, who takes the existence of a corporeal grim reaper rather well, initially refuses, but after discovering Heather has a boyfriend, signs up. Joe's first task as reaper-in-training is to help extinguish a plot by Dante (Andy Nicol) to re-build the bridge between Earth and Hell.

If anything, Soul Searcher simply has too much going on for its own good. Plot points are sometimes rushed past, while others are dwelled on for too long. Some elements of the plot just don't make sense. For example, if Ezekiel is the Grim Reaper, or Soul Searcher, as he calls it, why is he based in Hereford, England? We never see he or Joe travel the world to send souls to the afterlife. Dante's character is underwritten as well; he has a basic motivation, which is to reunite with his dead girlfriend, but we don't learn much else about him, as he rarely speaks. Characters sometimes just get dropped in, like Luca Callista (Lara Greenway), a bounty hunter of the netherworld, or at least that's how I understood it. We meet her when she drops in on a fight, and then she's like one of the gang. Before this gets too old, let's sum up: the script could have been tightened up.

Without wanting to sound like it's all negative, the film has its share of good points. The acting is generally solid, something that's often a stumbling point in low budget films. Everyone seems committed and game for carrying off what is obviously far-fetched material. Bullock is convincing as the sad-sack Joe, and Cooke is likewise so as the love interest. The cast as a whole does their best with the martial arts sequences, with some scenes coming off better than others. Oseman shoots the fights in classic Hong Kong style by pulling his camera back to actually watch the fight, rather than using editing to convince us of the fighters' skill. It's a brave choice, given that he was working largely with untrained actors. Likewise, the film generally looks quite good, better than a film made for about $30,000 has a right to.

Clearly, Oseman is a guy who truly believed in this film; he's listed as director, co-writer, producer, photographer, and editor; give him credit, because he's made an entertaining film on the proverbial shoestring. If you love scouring the shelves for indie genre films, then I heartily encourage you to seek out this one. It should be noted that the film has not had a North American release; this review is of the UK release, which is a Region 2, PAL video title. If your player can handle those specs (and let's face it, if your player can't, you just aren't looking hard enough), go for it.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The only disappointing element of this DVD is the lack of anamorphic enhancement, leaving us with a letterboxed 4:3 transfer (the back cover reads 16:9, though). For all that, the picture looks fine, with vibrant color and reasonably sharp detail, though artifcating is evident at times, and the limitations of the transfer (or budget) cause some of the effects to suffer.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is quite solid, with some pretty boisterous sound work during the action scenes, and the rear speakers are in almost constant use throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
19 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
10 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by (1) director Neil Oseman; (2) production designer Ian Tomlinson, casting director Simon Ball, co-producer Edward Reed, actors Ray Bullock Jr., Jonny Lewis, and more
Packaging: Unknown keep style
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo galleries
Extras Review: Never let it be said that you are not getting value for money! This disc is so crammed with extras that it should have had a second disc to hold them all. Up first then is the feature length documentary Going to Hell: The Making of Soul Searcher (01h:30m:57s), which covers in detail the making of the film, from initial script sessions to the final wrap. There is plenty of participation from cast and crew, and the documentary holds one's interest throughout. Oseman obviously fully intended to document each step of production for the eventual DVD, and it is to the viewer's benefit.

The remainder of the extras are split across three other sections. The first is "Cutting Room," where we get nineteen deleted scenes (00h:22m:59s), with optional commentary by Oseman. Like most such scenes, I didn't see anything truly worthwhile left out, but always interesting to see cutting choices. Next is Videomatic (00h:03m:03s), which covers the train sequence at the end, complete with storyboards and optional commentary. After that is the blooper reel (00h:06m:13s), and wrapping up the section is Sound Design, which is quite impressive. The feature takes a 93 second clip from the film, and breaks it down into its discrete levels on the soundtrack, which are selectable by the viewer. Each level includes a brief explanation as to how the effects were done. Not sure if it's been done before, but a very cool idea.

We move on to Film School, which presents us with Lo-Tex FX (00h:13m:06s). In its, Oseman discusses how he came up with the various effects given the budget at hand. In Lighting Class (00h:10m:06s), Oseman does the same, this time for lighting, getting into the equipment and such. Then there's Fighting Talk (00h:09m:21s), discussing the choreography of the fight scenes. Lastly is Deconstructing Props (00h:07m:38s), which does what the title says. Had enough, you say? Oh, but there's more to come!

We come to the Gallery now, which has four subsections. First is Characters (00h:03m:29s), set to commentary by concept artist Mayavan Thevendra. The next two sections, Props (00h:01m:56s) and Effects (00h:01m:45s) feature the same set-up in each. The last subsection is Photos, which is broken down into four subsections of its own, with more photos than I wanted to count within each, covering the filming and everything associated with it.

And that's almost it. Lest I forget, there are two commentaries, one with Oseman, and another with a bunch of cast and crew, edited together from multiple sessions. I think that's it. That exhausted me just typing it.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Made for probably less than the catering budget on your typical bloated Hollywood film, Soul Searcher surprises by being a slick, attractive fantasy film. By no means perfect, but if you love indie genre films, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this. The DVD is bursting with extras, though the nonanamorphic transfer is a letdown, albeit the only one of the disc. Well done, all things considered.


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