Eastern European horror cinema has always been characterized by grim, bleak aesthetic, and brutal violence. Horror films from Russia specifically hold a penchant for dreary visuals and the supernatural. THE SOUL CONDUCTOR, the latest film from Russian filmmaker Ilya Maksimov, is no exception and manages to blend the genres of mystery, thriller, and horror together with mixed results. Part crime thriller, part supernatural horror, the story uses familiar plot devices in a fresh way to tell its chilling tale. Ambitious to a fault, and bold in both its cinematography and performances, SOUL CONDUCTOR is an entertaining thriller that manages to deliver enough chills and thrills to keep your attention for its full runtime.
The story revolves around a young woman named Katia (Aleksandra Bortich) who has the ability to hear and see ghosts. Unlike the foreboding spirits of similar films like The Sixth Sense, the spirits Katia encounters are often vocal personalities, who directly ask for Katia’s assistance in matters they were unable to conclude while alive. These ghosts aren’t all scary, some of them are even funny, which provides for some interesting supernatural scenes the likes of which are rarely shown. Once Katia’s powers are established, the film sets up the central mystery that will haunt Katia for the remainder of the film: the disappearance of her twin sister—her only surviving immediate family. Katia is forced to play detective as she decodes abstract visions and apparitions to find her lost sister. Throw a murdering psychopath plot into the mix and you’ve got yourself a rollicking good time.
The visual elements of the film are often the most gripping—with sleek cinematography and haunting, other-worldly imagery. The film’s most dramatic moment comes at its start, as Katia witnesses a strange ritual of sorts take place as a little girl. A man douses a seemingly abandoned house with gasoline and proceeds to comfort a young boy at his side before hoisting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. Katia watches as the young boy is consumed by a strange supernatural force. SOUL CONDUCTOR is full of eerie happenings such as this, and these trippy moments are the highlights of the entire movie. There are plenty of other noteworthy elements, however. Maksimov’s directing is undeniably singular, and a riveting performance is drawn from Aleksandra Bortich as the booze-soaked, tragic heroine. Katia is a charismatic protagonist, who captures the same energy and spirit of classic noir icons. The supporting cast is equally convincing, and the score is drenched with the same moody aura as the picture.
The film does struggle in some departments, unfortunately. By the film’s third act, the story becomes a bit convoluted and difficult to keep up with. There’s a lot of information thrown at you quickly, and if you’re not paying close attention, crucial details can easily go unnoticed. While the story is certainly compelling and entertaining, it struggles in some places to remain fresh and energetic. While the visuals certainly manage to carry the film across its finish line, the twisted plot stops the film from being a genre masterpiece. The movie’s scares are less jumpy, which is appreciated and rely more on the environments of the set pieces, and overall atmosphere. While it won’t give you the same frightening experience as The Conjuring or Insidious, SOUL CONDUCTOR steeps its frights in real emotions and depth. In spite of its minor issues, the film has a lot to say about the living and the dead—grief, and how to live with it. Genre films with such emotional commentary are a rare breed, and this combined with powerful surrealistic imagery make THE SOUL CONDUCTOR worth your time.