Starring Anna Walton, Tom Wisdom
Written and directed by Axelle Carolyn
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
For her first time out as writer/director of a feature film, Axelle Carolyn has hit a home run with her “quiet” horror film Soulmate. Shot on location in a small village near Powys, Wales, and in a local cottage, the film opens with the powerful scene of protagonist Audrey Barker (Walton) attempting suicide with a straight-edge razor in the bath. Saved from death by her sister, Alex (Emma Cleasby), she retreats to an isolated Welsh cottage to recover and to also deal with her overwhelming grief at the death of her husband, in which she feels she had a hand.
As she is unpacking her car, Audrey is approached by the nosy Theresa (Tanya Myers) from the village with a basket of food for the new tenant of Talbot Cottage. Audrey knows the cottage by another name, Aleath Cottage (ironically Welsh for “without mourning or wailing), and tries to correct the woman, but Theresa will have none of it. The former owner, Douglas Talbot (Wisdom), was a beloved neighbor, and the cottage will always be known as Talbot Cottage. The viewer will see more of Theresa.
Finally ensconced in her new home, Audrey begins exploring, especially after hearing noises in the middle of the night from what turns out to be a locked room. She goes to the apparent landlord, Theresa’s husband, Dr. Zellaby (Nick Brimble), to ask for the key to this room, but both he and his wife say it has never been unlocked since the death of Talbot over 30 years ago. After insisting, Dr. Zellaby returns to the cottage with Audrey and unlocks what they call the “box room,” and Audrey is able to see that there is no one hiding there. Later, after the noises continue, Audrey returns to the door and jimmies it open herself. It is full of Talbot’s belongings, including a gun, as well as letters from his late fiancée, Nell, all of which add to the mystery of the place.
When Audrey has had enough of the noises, she commands the ghost she believes is there to “Show yourself!” and Douglas Talbot does, much to Audrey’s horror. But after her initial shock wears off, she and Douglas begin a bizarre friendship, they both having so much in common. Death and grief, mostly.
Once Douglas makes his appearance, the film really takes off, and not always in a good way. Carolyn’s “quiet” movie becomes “noisier,” and the menace grows to a shocking moment of confession. I won’t give away any more of the film, but it is one which I recommend watching more than once (I had trouble with the volume on my television and missed a lot of the dialogue between Audrey and Douglas during my first viewing – had to REALLY turn the volume up for the second viewing to hear everything). Their discussions are very important to the core of the film so don’t miss them!
First, I loved the movie’s look. Carolyn found an amazing cinematographer in Sara Deane, who really captures the gloominess of a Welsh autumn as well as the dark hallways of an old cottage on the quintessential Gothic “dark and stormy” night. I would probably enjoy watching Soulmate with the volume off; the images are that amazing.
And the score, by Christian Henson, really sets the stage for the “feeling” of Soulmate. Reminiscent of the horror film The Ring (2002), with all of its stringed instruments, there is a sadness to the score that mixes beautifully with the tale of Audrey and Douglas. And there is also one lone piano that reinforces the feelings of grief and loss that are the major themes of the film. Brilliant choices by Carolyn. I must also give kudos to the sound design department for how subtly they put the sound of the wind in the film. It adds that touch of frisson that fits so well with the overall look and sound of the picture.
My biggest complaint is about actress Anna Walton and her attempts to play the violin. I realize this is a very low-budget film, but surely an actress of her caliber could have taken a few lessons prior to filming! Ms. Walton is a lovely woman, but for Soulmate she wore what looked like very little makeup and appeared very delicate, fragile and haunted looking. Perfect for Audrey! Just move your fingers more when “playing” the violin!
Another complaint is the ending of the film – it is left very open to interpretation, and that might have been Carolyn’s plan. I loved the final shot in the film but wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED?? I suppose I should just go with what I think happened and let it rest; don’t complain about it.
All in all, Soulmate is a lovely, spooky, old-fashioned ghost story in an age where there are very few such films made. Most closely reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, it seems set in another age, when women could fall in love with their ghostly visitors. I was amazed by how “high-budget” it looked for such a low-budget film, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Carolyn does next. Hopefully another ghost story!
The only extras on the US DVD are Carolyn’s two shorts, the wonderful The Halloween Kid and the memorable The Last Post, as well as an interview with Carolyn and the film’s trailer. The UK DVD has the commentary if you have a universal DVD player.