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Lost Souls

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Lost Souls, the latest in a long string of apocalyptic supernatural thrillers (Stigmata, End Of Days) concocted in a serious misjudgment of the millennial atmosphere, would have been one of the first were it not for a two-year delay in its release. The wait hasn't helped. The directorial debut of Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, it benefits from a distinctive look, but little else. In fact, cinematically speaking, vacant films with distinctive looks (Snow Falling On Cedars, Payback, Get Carter) have proven far more substantial as millennial threats than otherworldly bugaboos. Tackling the ever-troubling—at least since 1973—subject of demonic possession, Lost Souls stars Winona Ryder as a former possessee who now works as the secular wing of a group of demon-busting clerics. Convinced that Satan will soon take human form, they discover his intended vessel in the form of unsuspecting true-crime author Ben Chaplin, whose loudly professed lack of belief in absolute evil takes some blows before the film's end. But it certainly takes a while to get there. Unrelentingly dour and paced like a drugged tree sloth, Lost Souls might play like an examination of the banality of evil if it didn't seem more like a demonstration of its dullness: An opening involving an exorcism that takes place almost entirely off screen at first appears a tease but sets the tone for most of what follows. A scene in which Ryder hallucinates a young girl jumping up and down while gleefully chanting, "Jesus is dead!" marks a turn for the absurd, but not a turn for the better. Though several moments reveal Kaminski as a director skilled at building tension, he never seems to know what to do with it, a problem plaguing Lost Souls up through a ridiculously anti-climactic finale involving that most diabolical of modern inventions, the digital clock.