Tag Archives: Soul

Spirits In the Material World

Soul (Roh)

by Hope Madden

There is a satisfying if confounding unpredictability about Emir Ezwan’s Malaysian folk horror Soul (Roh).

A slow burn set in an unspecified past, the film shadows a bloody, filthy little girl (Putri Qaseh) in a jungle as she watches a village burn before disappearing into the tree cover. When she later follows a pair of siblings back to their isolated hut, we know Mom (Farah Ahmad) probably should not take the straggler in.

But how could she turn her away?

What follows is a spooky tale of rural superstition that sees humans as gullible playthings to supernatural forces.

Ezwan draws naturalistic, believable performances from the cast of six, three of them children. Though Qaseh delivers only one line, she makes it count. But it’s Ahmad’s performance unadorned performance that generates the film’s uneasy central idea that a person’s character, choices, strengths or weaknesses are irrelevant in the face of a cruel and random power.

Whether that power is God or evil, nature or society doesn’t much matter.

Making the most of limited resources, the filmmaker casts a spell of a kind only found deep in the woods. The setting itself behaves as its own character, menacing and magical. Saiffudin Musa’s camera conjures the beauty and decay, both danger and sustenance around every turn.

You never know what you’ll find—true of the jungle and of this film.

There’s nothing showy about Ezwan’s feature debut. Instead, a raw but graceful understatement balances something supernatural with something profoundly earthly to deliver blood, dread and fear.

All That Jazz


by George Wolf

Pete Docter has written, directed, or been a part of the story team for some of Pixar’s greatest achievements. From Up to Inside Out, WALL-E to Toy Story, he’s helped set the standard that each new Pixar film competes with.

For Soul, Docter and co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers sense the time is right to tweak the winning formula a bit, creating a deceptively simple, beautifully constructed ode to happiness.

The updated blueprint starts with an African-American lead, Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged music teacher who still harbors dreams of stardom in a jazz combo. Just when Joe gets that long-awaited chance to play with one of his favorite artists, an out-of-body experience finds him fighting to get back to the life he’d been living.

Hence, the “soul” here may be not what you’re expecting. The music is all that jazz, but once Joe meets up with a wandering infant soul named 22 (Tina Fey), the film becomes a funny, surprising and truly touching journey toward becoming a fulfilled human being.

And what a beautiful, big screen-begging journey it is. Soul looks like no Pixar film before it, with wonderfully layered and personality-laden animation for Joe’s daily life that morphs into an apt Picasso vibe for our time in the before and after worlds. In those other worlds, Joe and 22 are gently pushed toward their destinies by the reassuring voice of the cubist Counselor Jerry (Alice Braga) amid a madcap series of detours carrying the emotional highs and lows of an inspired jazz trumpeter’s solo.

Foxx and Fey are joyfully harmonious, backed by jazzy arrangements from Jonathan Batiste, an ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a stellar supporting group of voice actors that includes Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, June Squibb, Rachel House, Wes Studi and a perfectly nutty Graham Norton. 

And though Soul delivers plenty of whimsical fun, it’s anchored by the existential yearning Docter hinted at with Inside Out’s “Bing Bong” character five years ago. 

But just when you think you know where the film will leave you, it has other plans, and that’s okay. Because while the best of Pixar has always touched us with family adventures that speak to what it means to be human, Soul leaves plenty of room for our own improvisations, producing a heartfelt composition that may be Pixar’s most profound statement to date.