DVD Review: Soulmate (2013)
By Keri O’Shea
Having first seem Axelle Carolyn’s short film The Last Post at the Abertoir horror film festival a few years back, I was excited to see where her career would go next; I enjoyed The Last Post, particularly for the way it joined its themes of grief and salvation to its supernatural elements – forming a gentle, humane but also sad story. So, when I saw that Axelle’s first feature-length film Soulmate would feature similar themes, that suited me just fine. I never would have anticipated the issues which Soulmate has faced (see my editorial for my thoughts there) but, having finally caught up with the film, there’s much to admire.
Audrey (Anna Walton) is, from the outset, clearly a young woman labouring under some sort of intense emotional weight. You can see it in her face, her movements – and we first meet her heading deep into rural Wales to seek solace from whatever it is which is troubling her, having rented a village cottage. She’s greeted by the enthusiastic, somewhat overbearing caretaker of the house, Theresa (Tanya Myers), but she makes it clear as soon as she can make it clear – she really just wants her own space. It is only as we see her unpacking and attempting to compose new music on her violin that we notice she has bandages on her wrists…
However, her ability to come to terms with what we can now assume was a suicide attempt – or the reasons behind it – is curtailed, by her awareness of strange phenomena in the cottage; at first it’s all very low-level (though no less disconcerting) such as odd unaccountable noises upstairs, things glimpsed out of the corner of an eye…but, the more she is told to ignore it by the usually-affable Theresa and her husband Dr. Zellaby (Nick Brimble), or has it gently dismissed as her imagination, the more the phenomena seem to occur. Could this all be the fall-out of her own trauma, giving way to a sensitive imagination – or is there more going on here?
The answer is a neat intersection of all the above, developed in an engaging and sensitive way. Although we start off not knowing what has happened to Audrey, or being privy to just how low it has taken her, Anna Walton acts her role very well and makes Audrey a vulnerable – and as such, sometimes flawed – character. As it is slowly revealed just what has happened to her, we can understand her grief, her anger and her desire for privacy. One of the key strengths of Soulmate is that it creates a winning sense of real time: Audrey explores her new environment with care and patience, for example, and nothing is ever wafted past the camera just for the sake of getting the shot. For an example of that, there’s an early scene where Audrey carefully moves, and considers, the impact of her wrist bandages on her violin playing, this feels intimate – and never mere exposition (no doubt because it was never intended to be, but that’s by-the-by and it works well here). The back story is filled in carefully and subtly. Soulmate also benefits from its beautiful, evocative scenery (well, it is shot in Wales), which helps an effective atmosphere to develop.
And make no mistake – the film achieves some wonderfully creepy moments. Many of these are in the first half of the film, when Audrey is first becoming aware of her surroundings and their strangeness, and we too are startled by what she sees…or thinks she sees. We feel unsettled when she does, and it’s in a few of the very simplest sequences when she first starts to notice that things are going on in the cottage that I got that pleasing otherworldly shiver which so many filmmakers have stopped catering for, preferring endless jump scares (though there are a few of those here too – thankfully it’s just not the only trick used!)
There are some genuinely very interesting developments on the supernatural theme during the course of the film – indeed, it didn’t go the way I was expecting when I discovered Audrey’s back story, the way in which I’m guessing a lot of viewers expected too, and that’s something which I was grateful for – but one downside to the way the supernatural elements of the plot are explored in Soulmate is that the film does enter something of a lull at around the mid-way mark, as it pauses to develop in a different direction. For a while the film changes tack, moving from a supernatural thriller with elements of the Gothic to a domestic drama of sorts. We gather information on the other characters and how they interact, and now it’s not only Audrey’s back story which is relevant. Here the film stays, for perhaps longer than it needs, losing some momentum. However, when the conclusion arrives, the film shifts a gear once again, and it makes good use of the groundwork it has laid down.
Still, it could all have gone wrong. If a film doesn’t know how to end, or if it resorts to cliche at the last hurdle, then that can lose an entire movie for me. Thankfully, Soulmate has the courage and resilience not to do this – and it opts for a very jagged ending, one where not all of the questions are answered. Particularly in terms of Audrey’s story, she may not get the answers she was expecting, and her life may not now be poised as a happily ever after, but this for me is exactly the best way to see the credits roll. Although I had minor issues with the pace in some places, I think that by and large Soulmate is an innovative, suspenseful film which achieves some genuine moments of creep. For a first feature, let’s not forget – this is impressive work.
Soulmate will be released on DVD on 11th August 2014.