★★★ out of ★★★★★
Delicious cherry pie. Would you like some eternal imprisonment with that or just coffee?
Directed by Terry Ross
Sweet Taste of Souls (2020) marks the debut of screenwriter Felicity Mudgett and the feature-length horror debut of director Terry Ross. Add in Bee Pedersen as producer and you’ve got yourself a bonafide women-driven horror show. It’s definitely been exciting to see this on the rise in our favorite genre. The more different voices, cultures, and points of view get added, the better and more flavorful the art of horror becomes!
In this case, the flavor is: cherry. Cherry pie, to be specific. Best in the county, in fact! Ellinore [Honey Lauren; Dracula (1992)] has turned her cherry pie into the featured item at her small town diner, Elle’s Kountry Kitchen. Add to that her collection of stark photographs — portraits of various people against a white background for which she’s dubbed herself a “world renowned photographer” — and Ellinore’s got a lot going on.
Oh, plus she has that infernal arrangement with some kind of demon and it’s driven her mildly bonkers.
Elle is a photographer. Maybe not world renowned, but she does take people’s pictures. Unfortunately for her often unaware subjects, Ellinore’s camera doesn’t just capture their image. It captures them. Once the picture is printed out and framed, the poor saps disappear from the real world and are stuck for eternity within the bounds of the picture frame. That is, unless Elle decides to drop them into the paper shredder.
Stumbling into this home-cooked den of evil are members of a struggling rock band passing through town on their way to their next gig. Thinking they were simply stopping in for a slice of pie, best friends Nate [John Salandria; Club Dead (2015)] and Kyle [Mark Valeriano; Hornet (2018)] accidentally wind up on Ellinore’s bad side dooming themselves and their fellow bandmates, Wendy [Amber Gaston; Mermaid Down (2019)] and Lily [Sarah J. Bartholomew; video game Life Is Strange 2 (2018) voice], to photographic imprisonment.
Though this is Director Terry Ross‘ first genre feature, Sweet Taste of Souls is her sophomore outing when it comes to feature-length films and it shows. The film’s direction feels confident and easily keeps the viewer’s attention throughout.
Ms. Mudgett’s screenplay presents a unique and engaging story and, while I initially disliked nearly every single person in the band due to their constant bickering, her characters grew on me and managed to come together when the chips were down. I wouldn’t call the movie “action packed,” but there’s enough to keep things interesting and the filmmakers have done a good job with pacing.
For the most part, the demonic (?) force in Sweet Taste of Souls remains completely unexplained. Ellinore’s soul-sucking digital camera? Unexplained. Why she only makes cherry pie? Unexplained. But this is one of those times when not explaining everything makes the story better. As the story rolls along it’s easy to roll right along with it and take these mysterious things in stride. To be honest, when the audience is ultimately presented with a semblance of an explanation it feels forced; shoehorned into the film with some CG effects. It pulls the viewer out of the movie and muddles the narrative after it had been going along so swimmingly.
Special effects-wise, though, Sweet Taste of Souls does a lot with a little. Obviously, the people-trapped-in-a-picture effect is the most important in the film and the effects crew nailed it. Seeing the various trapped souls trying to communicate with each other or just coming to life within their frames once the diner is empty is definitely a highlight. Gore effects, while minimal, are believable and the CG enhancements avoid being cringeworthy in spite of budgetary limitations.
All of the actors in Sweet Taste of Souls put their hearts into it. Particularly, Amber Gaston as exasperated-with-her-boyfriend Wendy was fun to watch and Frank Papia [Captain America (1990)] as Sid brought some welcome pathos to the small sub-plot involving his missing daughter.
Overall, Sweet Taste of Souls is a refreshing new idea. There aren’t any zombies or vampires and nary a single murderous clown. It’s not even a home invasion! It’s a fun — and often funny — demonically delicious slice of storytelling presented with captivating cinematography and great direction with a side of sweet, sweet cherry pie.
Sweet Taste of Souls is being released on November 1st by DarkCoast Worldwide on a multitude of streaming platforms (Amazon, InDemand, DirecTV, AT&T, FlixFling, Vudu & Fandango).
Review by Robert Zilbauer.