Monday, September 29, 2008

Rural Route: Island of Lost Souls

The Danish selection in the Rural Route Film Festival’s Scandinavia House film series might be the ringer of the program. Following her mother’s divorce, fourteen year-old Lulu suddenly finds herself in a community that might better be described as boring, rather than rural. Perhaps, for a budding young mystic, there is little distinction between the two. However, in Nikolaj Arcel’s Island of Lost Souls (partial trailer here), the nearby Monk Island proves the perfect desolate setting for an undead Necromancer to wage war against the forces of light.

In 1871, a lodge of mystics dedicated to fighting evil wages a pyrrhic battle against an evil Necromancer, thinking they have defeated him at great personal cost. Obviously, they haven’t killed him dead enough, just deferred the final battle to our time. Now the reconstituted Necromancer is wresting dead souls from their eternal rest, holding them captive on Monk Island. Each has a clue to the location of a page from the powerful Lodge Book which temporarily overpowered him some hundred years prior. However, Lulu’s Ouija board diverts one such lost soul, lodge member Herman Hartmann, who inadvertently takes possession of her annoying younger brother Sylvester.

Together with the help of Oliver, the awkward rich kid, and the questionable adult supervision of Ricard, a failed psychic researcher, they investigate the evil happenings on Monk Island. Amongst the scares they find there is an evil scarecrow, whose effects are surprisingly well done. Indeed, the production values of Island are quite strong throughout.

As Lulu and Sylvester/Hartmann, Sara Langebæk Gaarmann and Lucas Munk Billing both look age-appropriate, and Billing is reasonably credible when channeling the older character. Lars Mikkelsen is a creepy screen presence as the Necromancer. Unfortunately, the other adults are mostly stereotypes, including a mom straight out of John Hughes movies, who recognizes no behavioral changes when her son is possessed by a thirty-nine year-old from the nineteenth century.

In terms of tone, Island’s scenes of supernatural horror might be too intense for young viewers, but the early teenaged anxiety of Lulu and Oliver probably skews more towards that audience. If you were at Anime Fest this weekend, you should love it and normal film fest patrons could find it an interesting diversion, leading up to Halloween. Universal is developing a remake of Island, also to be helmed by Arcel, so in the future it could conceivably secure some sort of American distribution. For now, it screens at Scandinavia House this coming Wednesday and Saturday.