Identity Crisis

Overwrought horror flick about multiple personalities should plead insanity

souls Identity CrisisPart psychological thriller, part supernatural horror flick and 100 percent phony, 6 Souls benefits from a sound cast working hard to produce goose bumps, but even Julianne Moore fails to work miracles. She plays Dr. Cara Harding, the kind of practical-thinking forensic psychologist who believes that the theory of multiple-personality syndrome is just a fad, perpetuated by a once-popular barrage of TV talk shows, pulp novels and ill-
conceived Hollywood movies. (Take that, Bridey Murphy.) Since her husband’s murder three years earlier, she’s become an expert in exposing mental cases as frauds, which makes her unsympathetic testimony valuable to grand juries seeking indictments against criminals who hide behind the old insanity defense. But thanks to her psychiatrist father (Jeffrey DeMunn), she’s introduced to a case that rocks her to the roots.

The challenge is a patient named David Bernburg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who has a distinct borderline duality. David is a mild, soft-spoken man in a wheelchair. Then out comes Adam Saber, who speaks with a completely different voice whenever the phone rings. The cynical doctor begins her research, determined to prove the sinister patient is a hoax, and discovers, to her horror, that David died in 1982—crippled in a fall, then abused, tortured and murdered. His death took place while a boy named Adam Saber was a 6-year-old orphan who carried in his mind such a strong mental image of the murdered David that they became one and the same. Dr. Harding sets out to cure Adam, enlisting the aid of the real David’s mother (the excellent Frances Conroy), but when she visits Adam in the insane asylum, he hums a lullaby David wrote 25 years ago. Is Adam a diabolical phony, or an actual reincarnation of David? On a trip to the woods where David was killed, Adam conjures up visions of a cult of mountain witches dating back to the flu epidemic of 1918! Suddenly he rises from his wheelchair and turns into—Wesley, the front man for a rock band, who died in 1994! Now we’ve got The Three Faces of Eve mixed up with witchcraft, tattooed crucifixes carved into the backs of corpses and a coven of hags who suck the souls out of dead people and spit them in a jar. Everyone who breathes the gases from the jar comes down with a skin rash and a coughing fit. Pretty soon the doctor’s father is scratching his skin in the same place as David/Adam/Wesley, and so is her daughter Samantha. More personalities materialize, all of them from people who are dead, and all of them seen before in better movies than this. 6 Souls has been gathering dust on a shelf for three years. It should have stayed there.

All of the confusing but familiar hugger-mugger is chillingly fascinating until 6 Souls makes the mistake of trying to explain what the hell is going on. Then it falls apart in a fusillade of personality switches, plot twists and 100-year-old curses that are incomprehensible, derivative and ultimately underwhelming. As it gets creepier, it also gets sillier. There is always Ms. Moore’s slick performance to applaud, but the overwrought hysteria of Mr. Rhys Meyers’s David/Adam/Wesley just ended up making me laugh. The screenplay by Michael Cooney is off-the-wall, and the inert direction by the Swedish team of Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein is dead on arrival. The end credits, which seem almost as long as the movie itself, dementedly thank everyone from the citizens of Pennsylvania to William Wyler, Howard Hawks and God. What an insult. Blame who you must, but whatever went wrong with 6 Souls, God had nothing to do with it.

rreed@observer.com

6 SOULS

Running Time 113 minutes

Written by Michael Cooney

Directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein

Starring Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jeffrey DeMunn

1/4 Stars