What can be worse than watching a poorly made film? Watching a poorly made film that had the potential to be amazing. For example, since we are on the topic of sci-fi and films inspired by Julius Avery’s work, there’s Samaritan. It had a decent plot and a somewhat fresh take on the superhero subgenre. But it lacked any weight or passion in its filmmaking. If we are talking about Netflix releases, there was a movie called Awake, which dealt with a worldwide power outage that robbed people of their ability to sleep. However, it failed to create any memorable moments or sense of tension in this interesting plot. Sticking to the theme of Netflix releases set in the sci-fi genre, there was The Cloverfield Paradox, where a freak accident caused a team of astronauts to go into an alternate dimension. That said, the film neither utilized its “twists” nor made the most of its stellar star cast. And all these issues are noticeable in Soulcatcher, or (as its opening frames suggest) Operation: Soulcatcher.
Daniel Markowicz’s Soulcatcher, which he has co-written with Dawid Kowalewicz, follows a group of mercenaries, led by Kiel, who are directed to extract a woman named Eliza Mazur who has been kidnapped by a warlord. Apparently, she has photographic proof of this warlord’s crimes, and getting them into the hands of the Polish government is going to help neutralize a terrible threat. The warning signs are visible as soon as the team steps foot on enemy soil because the person who was supposed to guide the mercenaries is dead, there’s a weird woman in the shadows with tattoos on her face, and whispering sounds are floating through the air. Still, the mercenaries soldier on; they extract Eliza, and they start to return to their boat. That’s when they are attacked by a horde of rabid human beings. It’s only after two of their own succumb to the powers of a large machine that emits waves and sounds that Kiel realizes that there’s something horrifying at play. Therefore, the plan evolves from a simple rescue mission to a search-and-destroy mission before this machine is unleashed upon the world.
The only good thing about wading into Soulcatcher was that I hadn’t watched the trailer, I hadn’t read the plot synopsis, and I didn’t even know what genre it belonged to. I just clicked on the title on Netflix and started watching it. So, to be honest, I was intrigued by the opening 10 minutes of its running time. Given the spooky vibes, it seemed like Markowicz’s film was all set to enter the “group of soldiers outwitted and overwhelmed by something supernatural” hall of fame, alongside Predator, Dog Soldiers, and Overlord. However, instead of staying in that forest-bound setting that’s filled with these zombie-like beings, the soldiers just leave. They come back with reinforcements, and they leave again by the end of the second act. Can you guess what they do in the third act? That’s right, they return to this diabolical piece of land and leave again! It’s as if Markowicz and Kowalewicz are actively working against the audience’s efforts to immerse themselves in the film. But what is the big reason behind this storytelling choice?
My best guess is that Markowicz and Kowalewicz were under the impression that Soulcatcher’s larger political commentary about fascism, brainwashing, and the future of the arms industry was much more interesting than having a bunch of soldiers take down a mad scientist with the ability to turn ordinary human beings into rabid dogs. That’s why they didn’t realize that the constant to-and-fro wasn’t allowing either of the sub-plots to be substantial. In fact, it is that very to-and-fro that exposed the fact that Markowicz and Kowalewicz’s writing doesn’t have any kind of depth. The mere implication of a machine that can turn a human being’s brain off hints at the tyrannical nature of its maker. You don’t need to sit down and explain why someone has made such a thing, unless you think that your audience is way too dumb. In addition to all that, the characters in the film don’t have any memorable personalities. After a point, they become generic, trigger-happy soldiers. There’s an attempt to tug at our heartstrings with Kiel and Piotr’s relationship. But, much like everything else in the film, they don’t get enough screen time for us to associate Kiel’s motivation with his love for Piotr.
Soulcatcher’s biggest source of disappointment is its action. Credit where credit is due; there is a lot of practical stunt work on display. Most of it has been done in physical locations with a lot of destructible parts in order to give the appearance that it is all happening for real. There is some shoddy VFX, and CGI work here and there. But that isn’t egregious enough. The problem is its lack of urgency during these apparently massive set pieces. The camera moves in an annoyingly lazy fashion. Scenes last longer than they have to, and you can see that the actors don’t know what to do. So, they just shuffle around awkwardly. There’s a fight between Kiel and the aforementioned brainwashing machine’s buyer, and it moves from the surface to an underground location without any explanation. That’s how careless the film is about continuity. And then there’s the curious case of the sound design, which has a mind of its own. Some of the physical movements of the actors—lead, supporting, or background—are blessed with foley sounds, while others aren’t. It’s bizarrely inconsistent. The score doesn’t help as well because it feels like the composer was watching a moody arthouse film while crafting the music and not an action film.
I don’t want to dunk on the cast a lot because, as you can clearly see, Soulcatcher is plagued with the most amateurish creative choices. Actually, it’s the actors who try their best to convince the viewers that this is a mission that they should care about and that they should watch it all the way to the end. Piotr Witkowski does most of the heavy lifting. He seems to be doing his action scenes on his own as well. There is some major South Asian representation in the form of Vansh Luthra’s Harbir, complete with a “kirpan,” which is a dagger that’s usually worn by people from the Sikh community. He also wields the “chakram” at one point, which is cool. Michalina Olszanska has some scintillating chemistry with Piotr, which comes at the cost of undermining Kiel’s revenge arc. Sebastian Stankiewicz, Mateusz Mlodzianowski, and Aleksandra Adamska are fine as a unit. On their own, they don’t get to do anything that can make a mark. Jacek Poniedzialek looks confused throughout the film. Jacek Koman comes off as the most predictable villain ever. Mateusz Rzezniczak mostly stays on the sidelines. By the end, he gets to show off his fighting skills, which are hampered by an irritating strobing light effect.
In conclusion, Soulcatcher is not a good film. It could’ve been one if Daniel Markowicz and Dawid Kowalewicz knew what they wanted to do with this time-tested plot. The film doesn’t have anything particularly offensive in it. So, you can give it a try. If you are suffering from sleepless nights, it’ll make you drowsy. The rest is up to you. If you do want to watch a film where a group of people fights something supernatural in a rural landscape, go for Overlord, Predator, Dog Soldiers, Aliens, or Outpost. And if you want to try out films that feature brainwashing or mind control being conducted on a massive scale, there’s Kingsman The Secret Service, Hirak Rajar Deshe, The Matrix, and V for Vendetta. But that’s just my opinion. Please watch Soulcatcher, form your own opinion, and feel free to share your thoughts with us.