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This 2010 Norwegian chiller looks and often feels like a run-of-the-mill slasher, but branches out in some weird and provocative directions.

The Package
     DARK SOULS (MORKE SJELER) was made by the French born Cesar Ducasse, of the Norwegian sci fi-themed mini feature LIES INC. (2004), whose cinematographer and composer Mathieu Peteul co-directed the present film. DARK SOULS was a fairly popular item on the festival circuit, where it won several prestigious awards, yet has been little seen in general release, in the U.S. or anywhere else. It is, however, slowly making its way onto DVD and Blu-Ray throughout the world.

The Story
     A young woman named Johanna is jogging in the woods, where she’s attacked by a heavy-set dude with an electric drill. She attempts to fight the lug off but he overpowers her, and drills a hole in her skull. Later her body is uncovered by police who assume she’s dead, yet Johanna awakens in the morgue and immediately heads home. Her father Morten notices Johanna’s behavior growing increasingly erratic and violent, and then she takes to regurgitating black oil.
     Another head-drilling follows, the victim this time being a prostitute who, like Johanna before her, is pronounced dead but inexplicably comes back to life. A detective and a doctor attempt to uncover the truth behind these events while Morten tries to reestablish a family life with his daughter--and the driller killer continues to ply his grisly trade.
     Morten conducts his own investigation into the killings, and discovers that they’ve all occurred around a secluded oil refinery. He goes there and is accosted by the killer, who Morten tracks--and so witnesses the latest drilling, which the killer follows by injecting oil into his victim. Further investigation reveals that the oil being pumping into the refinery and injected into people’s veins has supernatural properties.
     Morten finally elects to surreptitiously enter the refinery and find out what’s going on inside, just as oil-leaking zombies swarm the local hospital and begin making their way out onto the streets…

The Direction
     The writer/directors Cesar Ducasse and Mathieu Peteul have accomplished something interesting here, crafting a subtle and complex refutation of traditional horror cinema that’s nonetheless done in the style of those very films. This is to say that DARK SOULS looks and plays like most modern scare fare, complete with lurid gore, shock cuts, decent-but-unexceptional performances and an assured but rather perfunctory visual style. Yet the film has enough inspiration to fill several normal scare flicks, being a serial killer procedural, warped family drama, zombie-themed dark comedy and oft-kilter conspiracy thriller all rolled into one. This may sound confusing, but the unhurried pacing and tightly focused narrative compel attention throughout.
     I’ll complain about the final third, in which the film degenerates into a rather conventional zombie thriller. In addition, some of the actions of the “hero,” played by Morten Ruda, are less than admirable--such as the fact that he stands by and does nothing while a woman gets her head drilled, making it difficult if not impossible to root for him.

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Directors/Screenwriters/Cinematographers/Editors: Cesar Ducasse, Mathieu Peteul
Producers: Cesar Ducasse, Maria Ducasse, Mathieu Peteul
Cast: Morten Ruda, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Ida Elise Broch, Johanna Gustavsson, Christopher Angus Campbell, Frank Aron Gardso, Caroline Stoyva Eriksen, Kristian Holter, Jan Harstad, Mikkel Lodding, Todd Mathiesen, Martin Zimmer