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Stars: Aleksandra Bortich, Evgeniy Tsyganov, Vladimir Yaglych, Aleksandr Robak, Vasiliy Bochkaryov and Ekaterina Rokotova.
Writers: Anna Kurbatova and Aleksandr Topuriya.
Director: Ilya S. Maksimov.

Screening at the 2018 Russian Resurrection Film Festival. Venue and session information available here.

Rating: ★★★★

The ties that bind us beyond the grave are explored within a thrilling supernatural framework in Ilya S. Maksimov’s The Soul Conductor (Provodnik). A ghost story that relies less on the ‘boo!’ factor and more on the haunting sadness of a life left incomplete, this high-end commercial entry from the Russian offices of 20th Century Fox offers both pensive, thoughtful meditation on regret and memory as well as spectacularly realised and chilling moments of modern movie horror.

Emerging star Aleksandra Bortich plays hardened 20-something Katya, a young woman not only able to see dead people but forced to co-exist with three desperate souls (Aleksandr Robak, Vasiliy Bochkaryov, Ekaterina Rokotova) who randomly materialise, often with their own agendas. Katya is also haunted by the grief of family tragedy; she was orphaned following a car accident that claimed both her parents, and is left shattered when her twin sister disappears, occasionally visiting Katya as an ethereal vision.

On top of all this burdensome emotional and supernatural baggage, Katya is drawn back to a decrepit mansion where, as a little girl, she witnessed an act of violent demonic transference (hence the title). The entity may have been responsible for the deaths of three young woman, blonde and blue-eyed like our protagonist, and Katya establishes an uneasy alliance with boozy career-detective Kapkov (Evgeniy Tsyganov) to bring about the beast’s downfall.

Bortich is a compelling presence, playing sweet and strong, damaged and defiant, with confidence and charisma that ought to be noticed by Hollywood suits keen to establish a new YA heroine figure (the 'Russian Jennifer Lawrence' tag is unavoidable). Scripted by Anna Kurbatova and Aleksandr Topuriya, The Soul Conductor affords the actress a multi-dimensional character the likes of which only emerges in those genre films with thematic weight to distill. The intrusion of memories into real life and the associated terror, grief and regret are played out convincingly by the 24 year-old Belarusian actress, who must also front up for the arduous physical acting required of a female lead battling a serial killer/satanic force.

The redemptive arc of the narrative is no surprise, but director Ilya S. Maksimov is making his film directorial debut after a decade in television, where clear, precise storytelling is a virtue; his skill at nailing strong story beats and maximising every frames potential is to the pics benefit. All other department heads under his watch provide slick, professional service, especially DOP and long-time collaborator Yuri Bekhterev, whose imagery is often breathtakingly lovely given the dark material.

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