Title: My Soul to Take
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olszynski, Jeremy Chu, Emily Meade, Raul Esparza, Jessica Hecht
Nobody’s perfect, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see a subpar movie from a filmmaker you revere. Even though Pulse and Cursed are clearly weak films, both are still entertaining to a point. Sadly, the only way to get any entertainment out of Wes Craven’s latest film, My Soul to Take, is to see it in a packed theater, that way you can enjoy commiserating with the rest of the audience when you’re hysterically laughing at moments that were never intended to be the least bit funny.
Just before losing his life, the infamous Riverton Ripper vowed to return. Now, sixteen years later, the seven local teens who were born the night the Ripper died begin to lose their lives, one-by-one. The Ripper’s body was never found, so many assume that he’s returned to take care of business. There are also others who believe the Ripper is long gone, but his soul is within one of the Riverton Seven.
Is it the innocent Bug (Max Thieriot)? How about one of Bug’s friends Alex, Jerome or Jake (John Marago, Denzel Whitaker and Jeremy Chu)? Or what about the spiritual Penelope (Zena Grey), the school bully Brandon (Nick Lashaway) or Bug’s crush Brittany (Paulina Cunningham)? Nobody knows for sure, but Bug is clearly the most likely suspect. Not only does he suffer from migraines and terrible nightmares, but Bug has a violent past having barely survived the night his father went on a bloody rampage.
The basic premise of My Soul to Take is quite ingenious; the soul of a murderer goes into one of the seven children born on the night he died. However, that beautifully simplistic concept is ruined with complications in Craven’s attempt to make the film an atypical horror movie. You’ve got the staple slasher, the Ripper, and then there’s a more spiritual element as well as the influence of a possible case of multiple personality disorder. Each piece has the potential to be a fantastic horror subject, but when thrown together, just wind up creating a wholly incomprehensible and nonsensical scenario.
In addition to the story, the dialogue is also quite ridiculous. It’s not that the banter doesn’t make sense, rather it makes too much sense for all of the characters are mere high school clichés. Craven was able to pull off the writing and directing double duty in the past, but he might have been better off putting this original idea into another screenwriter’s hands. Craven has no idea how teenagers speak. Every character comes equipped with absurd and tacky lines like, “Wake up and smell the Starbucks.” Even worse, all of the adult characters are pathetically dumbed down, particularly Bug’s guardian (Jessica Hecht) who makes an extremely late entrance, shares zero chemistry with Thieriot, which is made worse by bizarre dialogue. When a kid asks you if you want to know what he wished for his birthday, normally the answer isn’t an uninterested, “No.”
Just as cheesy as the dialogue are the kill scenes. There’s really nothing here we haven’t seen before. People get stabbed, heads are chopped off and there’s some chasing. The most suspenseful moment in the film isn’t when one of the seven are about to get it, rather when Bug is hiding out in the girl’s bathroom hoping Brittany won’t catch him snooping. The prosthetics and special effects are quit poorly done, too. Loose limbs look like props you’d purchase in a Halloween store and Bug’s dead visitors appear in cartoonish fashions. Making matters worse, all of these visual shortcomings are further enhanced by the extra dimension. There are a few moments during which the 3D makes for a useful tool, particularly when characters peer through slatted closet doors and for the fog effect on the lake, but otherwise, this is just another case of pointless post-conversion.
My Soul to Take‘s one redeeming quality is the performances. Regardless of the downright silly characters they’re given, some of the cast members give the role their all and it shows. The concept of Bug going from pathetically naive to manly hero is quite absurd, but Thieriot at least manages to represent that well. The rest of the gang’s parts are awfully one dimensional, but most seize the opportunity to make something of it, even if it’s only a little something. Marago shares an impressive scene with Thieriot during which you can practically feel his terror and Cunningham is an absolute natural in her role making Brittany a particularly likable character. Sadly for Emily Meade, regardless of how hard she tries, her character is just so detached from the story, Fang is rendered almost entirely meaningless. Fang isn’t one of the seven, but she sure has an effect on them. Brandon and Brittany are two of her minions who are assigned to lot out punishments in the form of physical beatings as Fang see fit. Even worse than her silly punishment point systems, one being a mere nudge on the arm and ten being a serious pounding, is the fight she gets into herself. Just like that ludicrously violent moment, the movie could have done without her character entirely.
My Soul to Take just makes no sense from an audience’s perspective and in terms of Craven’s involvement. Not every film he makes is fantastic, but he has managed to set the bar at at least a watchable level. My Soul to Take falls so far below that level, it’s baffling Craven would even put his name on it. The ideas are there, but this one is just so poorly executed it doesn’t even come close to being a horror film or a thriller; it’s an unintentional comedy.
By Perri Nemiroff