It’s too bad there’s not much of a market for short films, because I see a lot of feature-length films that probably would’ve been happier at a third the running time. It’s not impatience on my part — I’ll watch a four-hour flick if there’s enough going on to justify it — it’s more that some material just plays better shorter. The Old Man and the Sea was not 600 pages and Un Chien Andalou wouldn’t have benefited from being 90 minutes long.
Which brings us to Soul Searchers, the writing/directing debut of Bentley Mitchum, who has clearly studied up on satanic cult movies of the ’70s and probably a few David Lynch films. Mitchum has a sharp eye and a good instinct for seat-jumpers. Stylistically, he’s one up on 75% of the so-called horror directors out there. And props must be offered that he didn’t go the easy way and crank out a slasher flick. The talent’s there, but the story he’s telling feels extremely padded out to fill 97 minutes.
Luke Tingle, who reminded me of a cross between Matt LeBlanc and James LeGros, is the movie’s clueless hero Charlie, a former-frat-boy type who moves from Massachusetts to L.A. in search of…well, he’s not quite sure what. He meets an alluring young woman in a diner (Jaime Anstead, the director’s wife), who turns out to work in a strip club. Visiting her there, Charlie runs across an old acquaintance (Scott Staggers), who takes him to a party at which Charlie meets the even more alluring Jade (Julie St. Claire). Charlie falls for her hard.
The new couple go back to Jade’s hometown in Oregon, and this is where Soul Searchers turns into a lot of scenes of Charlie wandering around in the woods, Charlie wandering around town looking for Jade, Charlie running across odd things he doesn’t understand, Charlie having recurring nightmares involving chanting robed weirdos. The script probably needed a subplot or two, or more characters for Charlie to interact with in a meaningful way that moved the story along, in order to feel less dawdling. There’s even a flashback to the time Charlie discovered a girlfriend in flagrante delicto that maybe, if you justify it real hard after the movie’s over, might have something to do with the rest of the movie. Personally, I figured it was just Mitchum going for some laughs, since he encourages Luke Tingle to act like a complete goofball in the flashback.
In the final half hour, though, things finally pick up and we learn what the deal is with Charlie’s dreams. Billy Drago shows up as a character called The Man in Black, and he ain’t carrying a guitar and singing about Folsom Prison, folks. It’s always fun to see Drago, though he has to deliver some top-heavy exposition that sounds a lot like The Prophecy. Things come full circle, and, again, if this were a half-hour episode, it’d be a clever little gem that stuck in the mind.
I didn’t really want to mention that the director is Robert Mitchum’s grandson, because why burden a guy with that when he’s trying to do his own thing? Then again, I’m sure Bentley Mitchum is proud of his lineage, and he’s got his dad Christopher in there too. The guy’s got talent, and he’s got a good story here, but next time he needs either more story or less running time.