Directed by: Axelle Carolyn
Starring: Anna Walton, Tom Wisdom, Tanya Myers
Open on a tasteful, ornate bathroom.
Soft focus. By warm candlelight, a young woman (Anna Walton) undresses. The score (an elegiac piano) is barely heard under the gentle splashes which are made as the woman enters the steaming bathtub. When she is fully submerged she, without warning, grabs a gleaming straight razor and, with painful determination, drags it through one wrist, and then the other. She sinks exhausted beneath the water, which is darkening with her blood…
We fade to white.
Except, not all of ‘us’ do: as, in Britain, the scene as described above has been ordered by the BBFC - in their finite wisdom - to be cut. While the episode is in no doubt unpleasant, it is impossible, within the wider context of the film, to argue that the depiction is in any way gratuitous or exploitative. The scene in question is suffused with a poignant dignity, and is entirely free of the type of garish presentation that so often characterises the genre. The BBFC’s decision would seem to be unfathomable; the body cites ‘imitable detail’ in their report, but the implication that this rather lovely, atmospheric ghost story would ever be instructive or even encouraging of suicide techniques is ludicrous.
Moreover, the suicide is the only transgressive material within Soulmate, and its graphic nature gives emotional weight to the otherwise gentle interplay of love, longing and the supernatural, which characterises this film; the narrative would be unmoored and incomplete without the necessary and well-judged suffering of this opening sequence. To allow the BBFC the sort of equity that it did not itself extend to Soulmate, it has stated that a release of the film without cuts would mean it would garner an 18 certificate. However, the compromise is bittersweet, as a restricted audience will reduce the potential of this moving and handsome supernatural drama; and it is also quite frustrating that the BBFC’s exorbitant intervention has subsequently hijacked the dialogue that concerns this sensitive and thoughtful film.
Fade back in to a rainy countryside.
Following her suicide attempt, Audrey (Walton) relocates to Wales, moving to a quaintly dilapidated cottage on the outskirts of Brecon. The imposing use of scenery in Soulmate is breath-taking, with Carolyn and her DOP (Sara Deane) making the most of this mountainous dominion of myth and beauty, creating a setting that is distinctive and spectral (more horror films set in Wales, please). Avoiding the unwanted attentions of her nosey neighbour, Audrey shuts herself in the cottage and focusses on recovering: from both her suicide and the untimely death of her husband. Her desire to be alone is thwarted though, as she slowly comes to realise the cottage is haunted by the ghost of its previous occupant, the impossibly rakish and handsome Douglas (Tom Wisdom). What ensues is no ghost however, as, along with the hints of an unlikely romance, there are moments of affecting heartbreak and sublime creepiness. Soulmate unspools in its own stately, majestic pace, allowing its characters to develop and the ethereal mood to swell. Walton is beguiling; her porcelain beauty imparting fragility and fortitude, and Wisdom is suitably scary: his ghost is frustrated and desperate, credibly menacing rather than arbitrarily vindictive. Soulmate’s look is one of studied, poetic beauty, and when so many genre flicks aspire to a shiftless lack of visual sensation, Soulmate’s considered lights and shadows; the redolent mists, the flickering candles; are to be applauded. Soulmate is a film to curl up inside.
This is Carolyn’s debut feature film, but it shares themes with her earlier shorts, that of human loss and loneliness, and an alacritous interest in the transcendent potentials of the supernatural. Carolyn’s understanding of horror, her genre expertise, is palpable. The ghost in Soulmate is by turns embittered, pathetic and even seductive; never the simple threat of a typical spook story. It is regretful that British audiences won’t witness the full experience of Soulmate, and it is also a bit of a shame to admit that the film will enjoy its true afterlife on DVD or home streaming; as this cinematography deserves the big screen.
Soulmate is made with the sort of love and sensitivity that is rare to the genre. Try to catch it on its limited theatrical run, but, failing that, Soulmate is the perfect film to submerge yourself within at home of a rainy Sunday afternoon; like stepping into the unfamiliar, shadowy comforts of a candlelit bath…
By Benjamin Poole