‘Busy’ is the word that comes to mind in trying to describe Ilya S. Maksimov’s The Soul Conductor (Provodnik). For this is a film in which multiple subgenres and perspectives collide, and the viewer is left, not unlike the self-medicating heroine Katia (Aleksandra Bortich), struggling to find a clear signal in all the noise.
Still guilt-ridden over the death of her parents (in a car crash) years earlier, 20-something Katia is gifted – or cursed – with the ability to see the ghosts of the unrestful dead, and occasionally to help them in their passage upwards and beyond. Recently, she has also been having strange visions of her estranged identical twin Larisa (Bortich again), and believes that her sister is alive but in trouble at an abandoned country mansion where, as a little child, Katia had witnessed a traumatic event. As Katia’s strange behaviour uncovers a woman’s mummified corpse, and reopens a cold case involving two further missing women, investigating officers Kapkov (Yevgeny Tsyganov) and Anton (Vladimir Yaglych) start wondering if they are dealing with a serial killer, and if Katia – often intoxicated, sometimes institutionalised, always erratic – may just be the psychopath (rather than psychopomp) responsible for all these dead people. Meanwhile, in a desperate search for her sister that keeps taking her back to the burnt-out mansion, Katia begins to suspect that there may be something supernatural about her murderous antagonist.
Frequently showing us what Katia sees and others cannot, The Soul Conductor is a hallucinatory trip through wild, frequently disturbing visions of the kind that only a clairvoyant, a paranoid schizophrenic or a fan of genre films could experience. It is a confusing, overdetermined narrative, wherein we are made to share Katia’s uncertainty as to whether she is seeing living or dead people, and to get lost in locations – including her own apartment – that rapidly transform into different, haunted spaces. The proximity of Katia’s second sight to insanity becomes just one hinge of the film’s ambiguity, as a giallo-like plot unfolds in which everyone becomes a suspect for multiple murders. So fluid is the film’s presentation of a multi-dimensional reality that it becomes hard to tell where the madness ends and the paranormal begins, and you may, like Katia, feel you need a stiff drink, or perhaps something stronger, just to cope.
Part of the pleasure of Maksimov’s film is the way that it improbably ties elements from Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996), from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) and from the serial-killer thriller into a knot of disorienting twists and heady turns. That is also part of its problem, as some may struggle to find a satisfactory way out of all these narrative convolutions and paradoxical contingencies – although perhaps that lack of an unequivocal resolution is the intended effect. After all, on its upward journey through chaotic, contradictory genre materials to a kind of cosmic clarity, The Soul Conductor keeps the viewer very busy.