There's something unique about Chicago-based Acrostar Films, an award-winning indie film company born out of the creative vision of author/filmmaker S.J. Hermann. Primarily devoted to the world of horror, Acrostar was first created to give cinematic light to Hermann's indie book titles but has also created a way for Hermann to expand his creative vision and world-making. Hermann himself is an intriguing fellow, equally comfortable dancing on the darker side of cinema while also serving as a passionate anti-bullying advocate. This film, Desperate Souls, is undeniably dark yet also rich in its tapestry of horror meets psychological thrills meets stark spirituality.
On the very surface, I must confess, I found myself thinking of that 1998 Nic Cage/Meg Ryan flick City of Angels. The comparison isn't really warranted, I suppose, though it makes me laugh and there is a framework of common ground. Suffice it to say that Desperate Souls is much darker, much more vulnerable, and much more raw.
In Desperate Souls, Angel Nichole Bradford stars as Moira, a succubus living for eons in the empty void of a vacant afterlife. She survives on the lust, despair, and grief of desperate men whom she seduces with empty promises before devouring their souls. It is only when she meets Devin (Joe Rosing) that she encounters an attractive pain she's never felt before and the two develop something resembling a relationship that draws both in. Increasingly determined to maintain this newfound relationship, Moira becomes ever more willing to do whatever it takes to maintain this relationship even if it means killing anyone who gets in the way.
There's a richness within Desperate Souls that is fiercely compelling, a rawness and vulnerability that actually benefits from the film being a more microcinema effort. Bradford and Rosing embody a convincing chemistry that is filled with what ifs and why nots. Tasked with carrying the narrative arc of the film, the two excel. As is appropriate given the seductive qualities of her character, Bradford in particular ends up seducing all of us.
Sarah Dolan shines as Devin's therapist, an opportunity for Desperate Souls to really show the true depth of Devin's desperation. Among the key supporting players, Magdalena Conway is an absolute scene-stealer as Rebecca and Jake Yanko equally impresses. I also found myself completely enchanted by Mia Katz's turn as Kelly.
John Wesley Norton's lensing is impressive throughout Desperate Souls. This is no small achievement given the challenges of low-budget filmmaking. It's clear that writer/director Steve Hermann, also known as S.J. Hermann, has surrounded himself with a quality cast and crew of committed, well, souls. I can't speak to their level of desperation.
Original music by Tony Parsons is atmosphere-setting and immersive and further enhances Hermann's vision for the film.
Existing somewhere between the worlds of horror and thriller, Desperate Souls is a dark, soulful mystery with a well told story and an ensemble powerfully bringing that story to life. If you require all the usual perks of multiplex cinema, Desperate Souls may very well not be for you. However, if you can immerse yourself in a tapestry of horror and soulful storytelling brought to life with more passion and grit and vulnerability than actual budget then you may very well find yourself pleasantly surprised by this indie supernatural horror gem.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic