Wandering Soul was released on August 20, 2004 and grossed $143.6 million against a $15 million budget, becoming the tenth-grossing film of 2004 worldwide. It premiered at the 49th Riverside International Film Festival and received positive reviews by critics. Praise was given to the acting performance of lead actor Patrick Wisler, the atmosphere, and the musical score.
The film was nominated for six Sierran Screen Academy Awards, including for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Score.
Fourteen years before the main storyline, Lt. Benson McCoy served as a platoon leader for Company G, 4th Battalion, 44th Infantry Regiment. He and his men were given orders to find Viet Cong soldiers in the Vietnamese village of Tịnh Hiệp. After being given orders to search-and-destroy and told that the village had Viet Cong sympathizers, McCoy and his men proceed to kill the unarmed villagers. A shaman pleads for mercy and warns that the murder of innocents will inflict vengeance before McCoy shoots him dead. The operation soon ends once McCoy receives a radio transmission informing him to cease operations immediately as a whistleblower subordinate reported McCoy and his platoon's actions further up the command. Enraged, he notices an adolescent girl standing before a ditch. As he is about to fire his weapon at her, she lunges at him furiously crying before he kills her after a brief struggle. He and her body fall into the ditch where it is filled up with the fresh corpses of the village's victims. As he stares back at her lifeless but raging eyes, McCoy begins to fully realize his actions and screams in terror.
Following the massacre, McCoy is court-martialed and sentenced to three years on house arrest for his actions. He is dishonorably discharged and has received the scorn and condemnation of his family, friends, and his former fiancée. He returns to civilian life as a recluse where he is forced to ruminate on his actions.
Several years later, McCoy lives in solitude in a two-story home in an Inland Empire suburban neighborhood. He is still haunted by memories of his crimes in Vietnam and frequently experiences hallucinations that disrupt daily activities of living. He leaves home occasionally because his psychosis usually improves when he is outdoors. At nighttime, he has difficulty going to sleep as one particular hallucinatory episode is a ghostly girl that lingers in his periphery vision. When it persists, McCoy investigates. He begins to notice signs of poltergeist activity in his household including footsteps, damaged cups, and running water faucets. He is initially dismissive but following the appearance of a ghostly apparition of the same entity earlier in his bathroom that results in the lights blacking out, McCoy concludes that it must be paranormal. Desperate to make peace with the spirit, he seeks out the services of a psychic medium.
When McCoy comes into contact with a psychic, she turns him down when she learns of his past and mental history, believing he is suffering purely from hallucination and delusion. He then meets My Le, an elderly Vietnamese woman whom reminds McCoy of his time in the war. He is initially ashamed to see her but then opens up to her, believing that she is the key to his atonement. Although she speaks limited English, McCoy is able to communicate through mostly nonverbal communication and discovers that she lives down the street alone in a previously vacated home. He learns that she was a refugee who lost all of her children and grandchildren to the Anglo-Americans during the war. Feeling remorse, he pays for her meal at a pho restaurant.
In the following days, McCoy continues to experience vivid hallucinations while in the night, he suffers from night terrors. He continues to witness the ghostly girl who always catches him off-guard. During one particular night, he hears funerary music and Buddhist chants downstairs, which he investigates. He begins to imagine the dead from Vietnam around him, causing him to run to his basement, where he is trapped by the spirit. He develops a painful rash behind his back and it begins bleeding, indicating he had just been scratched. After he is physically attacked for the first time by the ghost, McCoy believes it intends to kill him. Unable to escape and trapped with the supernatural entity, he cries for help. McCoy begins to hear rattling upstairs and is fearful that there are more spirits.
Desperate to fend for himself, he remembers he stored his gun in the cellar and takes it with him. He starts shooting where he believes the spirit is before the basement door is finally unlocked and opened. The spirit re-appears before him as the same girl he killed back in Vietnam before it lunges at him. He feels it on top of him but then sees blood. Suddenly, he exits psychosis and sees that the spirit he killed was My Le. She had entered his home due to the commotion. Horrified by the repeating of his deeds, he is told by the spirit to die and proceeds to hang himself. Hours later, the authorities arrive due to neighbor reports of gunfire and discover McCoy's body in the basement, concluding that it was a suicide. It is further revealed that My Le was merely a figment of McCoy's imagination as her body is nowhere to be seen and her home has been abandoned for years.
- Patrick Wisler as Lt. Benson McCoy
- Hoang Thi Thanh as My Le
- Electra Kwan as the Girl and the Spirit
- Timothy Bates as Sgt. John Keagan
- Stephen Nguyen as Villager Shaman
- Joseph Quyen as Villager Boy No. 1
- Rufus Kim as Pho Restaurant Owner
- Simon Humboldt as Detective Andrew Sampson
- Diana O'Donnell as Detective Julia Sommers
- Jared Savage as Neighbor No. 1
- Ronald McGill as Judge Jack Clemens
- Francisco de Carvalho as Gen. Christian Medina
Producers Ryan Moss and Dan Bowden wrote the original screenplay for Wandering Soul in 1985. It was initially conceptualized as a psychological thriller and was sent to Timemaker Studios. After several rejections, Moss and Bowden invited Kenny Vuong to modify the script's treatment in 1998. Vuong's Vietnamese heritage contributed to rewriting the script into one more focused on war, leading to a script closer to the final version of the movie. He was reportedly inspired after researching Sierra's involvement in Vietnam, as well as the United People's Committees. The Medellín massacre during the Colombia War was used as the source for the civilian massacre depicted at the beginning of the film. The screenplay was picked up by Arlington Pictures, whose board of directors called for further refinement to the writing's treatment. On September 9, 2001, a deal was reached between Arlington Pictures and Moss's Eldritch Studios, and production was green-lit shortly thereafter.