SOUL TO KEEP **** USA 2018 Dir: David Allensworth, Moniere. 94 mins
Siblings Aurora Heimbach and Tony Spitz inherit their grandfather’s country home and settle in for a weekend of pot smoking and drinking games with his girlfriend (deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank), Wiccan Kate Rose Reynolds and her narcissistic jock boyfriend – plus Craig Vogel as a shrill vlogger who lurks in cupboards just to scare people and films everything with his phone. Worrying signs include power cuts, visions of creepy little girls and an oddly placed chainsaw, but, despite concerns about conjuring some “Wes Craven shit” the group majority-votes to participate in a basement ritual that ends up summoning Beelzebub.
The tone set by an evocative illustrated title sequence documenting evil through the ages, this overcomes the generic familiarity of its set-up thanks to an unusually intelligent script. Characters are pithily developed: one guy’s ignorance is encapsulated by the fact that he’s the only member of the group who never bothered to learn how to sign. In a genre where handicapped women have been traditionally cast as resilient victims, Frank represents an impressively inclusive and unpatronising portrayal of a deaf character – with almost all the film’s dialogue signed due to her presence in the friendship group. The standard possession scenario (with visual and thematic nods to THE EVIL DEAD) results in second half plot turns that place character dynamics over gore and body count. Reynolds transforms into an impressive succubus, offering witty commentary on the young men she easily seduces: they cum very swiftly, and she is seen finishing herself off while one immediately falls asleep and the other takes to his vlog to brag about the conquest. Reynolds’ sexual mockery (“You’re built like a Ken doll!”) brings much humour to the film as the men are easily enslaved while the handicapped heroine outsmarts them all (and her disability ensures hers is the one body the demon doesn’t fancy hijacking). This slick, atmospheric picture develops sympathetic protagonists and displays a rare sense of grief from the ensemble when their friends start dropping like flies.
Review by Steven West