‘You don’t have a prayer’
Soul to Keep is a 2018 American supernatural horror feature film co-directed by David Allensworth and Monière, from a screenplay by Allensworth and Eric Bram. The movie stars Sandra Mae Frank, Aurora Heimbach and Derek Long.
Erin, a timid 22-year-old, and her confident twin brother Josh inherit their grandpa’s creepy country house. Rusty broken barn. Swampy pond. No better way to christen the home than to throw a party with their school friends.
Josh brought his sweetheart, Tara, and their closeness is apparent. Tara is deaf, and all the friends speak with her through sign language. Everyone, except for Brandon, the self-centred boyfriend of Grace, Erin’s childhood friend-turned-dark-Wiccan.
It’s all fun and games until the lights go out. Josh searches the dark and damp basement to find the fuse box, only to discover a secret ritual room, complete with animal bones, blood, and meat arranged in a large triangle. Not to mention the nearby grimoire – a demonic spell book. The group is now convinced that the sibling’s grandpa truly went crazy…
The introduction of a deaf lead character, Tara, played by deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank, allows the exploration of unique modalities in the narrative style, notably the use of sign language throughout the film. All the actors flawlessly learnt and incorporated the sign language into their performances to serve the purpose of the story. This inclusive aspect of the unrepresented Deaf Community makes the production accessible to hard-of-hearing audiences as well as creating a dialogue between the Deaf and Hearing populations.
“The deaf element in this film came to me originally as something of a scare tactic, and it blossomed into an important statement about bringing communities together,” says director David Allensworth. “Our co-writer Eric Bram’s wife is partially deaf, as well as one of our producers, Matt Meyer, who has partial hearing loss.”
“I wanted to bring out the elements of a minority group – the deaf and hard at hearing – and showcase them as heroes. In addition, I wanted to tell a horror story with real proven metaphysical elements, not another horror-slasher film,” adds co-director Monière.
A death in the family, an inherited house in the woods, a locked basement containing a secret room. We’ve all seen this before. Add a diverse group of college kids looking to party and you have the starting point of the first feature from directors David Allensworth and Moniere, Soul to Keep. And of more other films than I can count.
Plot-wise, Soul to Keep doesn’t add anything new to the genre. Erin (Aurora Heimbach) and her brother Josh (Tony Spitz) have inherited their grandfather’s house in the woods. Along with Josh’s girlfriend Tara (Sandra May Frank), and some friends they go to check it out and, of course, party. The characters all show the usual lack of good judgment when confronted with the remains of some kind of ritual. Rather than getting out of the house, or at least the basement, they have to perform the ritual for themselves. And soon enough we are in Evil Dead territory as they become possessed one by one. Can the last survivors send Beelzebub and his minions back to Hell?
What is a new wrinkle is Soul to Keep’s use of sign language. Tara is deaf as is the actress that plays her. Characters frequently communicate with sign language as well as speech. There’s on-screen “Open Captioning” for the scenes where only sign language is used. While Tara’s lack of hearing is instrumental in a couple of scenes it’s not used that much. The captioning is distracting when it occurs. It’s large yellow letters placed near whoever is signing. Traditional subtitling would have been a better choice.
Apart from that though Soul to Keep is a familiar story told in an entertaining enough way. And with an ending that’s unexpected. The film is fairly mild in terms of skin and blood. Especially given a couple of scenes that were promising a lot more than they ended up delivering. You would think one of the Princes of Hell would deserve a little more debauchery.
It’s an enjoyable enough film, though more suited to casual horror fans, or those who don’t like too much gore.
Jim Morazzini, guest reviewer via Voices from the Balcony
“There’s an emotional disconnect between the viewer and the characters on-screen that ultimately minimalises the stakes of the film’s more intense moments. There are too many paper-thin characters and not enough time in the runtime to add any depth to each of them, resulting in no cares being given about the fate of any of those fighting for survival.” Corey Hughes, Film Inquiry
” …pitfalls are endemic of the film’s ham-fisted continuity. That doesn’t just extend to the literal continuity editing between shots and between scenes, but narrative continuity and characterization within the actual story – nothing is fully developed. While there are select moments of creativity that bleeds through the slog that is this film, there isn’t enough in Soul to Keep to keep even the most passive of horror fans enthralled.” Matthew Roe, Film Threat
” …this one’s pretty solid. The only thing I didn’t care for is the last ten minutes. It was kind of a moot way to end such a decent movie. Some things shouldn’t be undone so easily and the ending doesn’t need to be that happy, but I digress. Everything else with Soul to Keep was too good to let a fraction of the movie ruin my entire viewing experience.” Horror Society
“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 […] This slick, atmospheric picture develops sympathetic protagonists and displays a rare sense of grief from the ensemble when their friends start dropping like flies.” Steven West, Horrorscreams Videovault
“The only real problem with the film, came in the form of CGI overuse, when practical effects would have given it the fuel needed to cross the final hurdle […] Soul to Keep is a fun, late night fright fest. It comes with some interesting twists and turns, and it’s bound to keep you up at night. It’s beautifully, crafted and the scares are plentiful.” Morbidly Beautiful
“The entire ride was enjoyable. There were no moments where it dragged. It was filmed perfectly. The acting was great, the sense of dread lingers from the moment it arrives, and it is true to its mythology. Overall, Soul To Keep is one hell of an intelligent horror film that I truly believe will stand the test of time.” Preston Holt, PopHorror
“For me the set-up is just too familiar and the CGI would’ve been more fun done practical. A fun watch Soul to Keep adds a few new things that are worth checking out for horror fans who want to get something they don’t fully expect.” Without Your Head
Soul to Keep premiered at the Shriekfest Film Festival in Hollywood on October 6, 2018.
Cast and characters:
- Sandra Mae Frank … Tara
- Aurora Heimbach … Erin
- Derek Long … Toby
- Conor McKenna … Demon
- Jordan Theodore … Brandon
- Kate Rose Reynolds … Grace
- Jessie Jordan … Kimberly
- Brian Donovon … Pop Pop
- Tony Spitz … Josh
- Craig Fogel … Freddy
- Amelia Sheeler … Young Erin
- Annabelle Reed … Young Grace
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