Kicking the Tweets

Entries in My Soul to Take [2010] (1)


My Soul to Take (2010)

Wes Coast

The universe has beautiful symmetry.  If you know what to look for, all kinds of patterns can emerge and fill your life with moments of grand coincidence.

Here’s a good example: This week, I saw both the best and worst films of the year.  The Social Network is a great tragedy about damaged people re-defining friendship in the Internet age; Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take is just tragic, and has re-defined any notions I had about the director as an artist.  This is a shameful mess of a picture that even the most clueless first-year film student would have had the good sense not to show to other people—much less charge money for the chore of watching it.

It’s bad enough that Craven has simply traded on his name for the last five years, accepting what have to be generous “Executive Producer/Writer (Characters)” checks for uninspired remakes of the films that made him famous; but now that he’s back in the writer/director’s chair, all he can come up with is a muddled mash-up of his own films.  Fans of Scream and the original A Nightmare on Elm Street will have dozens of déjà vu spells during this movie, anchored to the present only by the sheer clumsiness of My Soul to Take.

In 1994, a schizophrenic killer called the Riverton Ripper terrorized a town with a series of nasty knife killings.  The Ripper was actually a family man with a lovely wife and daughter (and a son on the way), who may or may not have been possessed by a demon.  In the most rushed and confusing opening five minutes since Jonah Hex, the Ripper murders his wife and tries to kill his daughter;  but is shot several times by the police, who, I guess, just happened to be having a smoke break outside the house; he also kills his psychiatrist, who showed up about two minutes after a panicked phone call—after the wife-murder but before the police arrived; the Ripper pulls off two more “Not Really Dead” jump scares before being shot again and then carted off in an ambulance; he awakens inside, kills a paramedic, wounds another, and escapes into the night after the vehicle crashes and explodes.  Again, this is the opening five minutes.

Fast-forward sixteen years to “Ripper Night”, on which Riverton’s teenagers gather in the woods for an annual ritual.  One of the seven kids born on the night of the maniac’s disappearance must topple a papier mache likeness of him—or else, legend has it, the real Ripper will emerge from the lake to exact revenge.   The ceremony takes place next to the burned-out ambulance, which has been adorned with candles (one might think this would have been carted away at some point and inspected for clues in connection with a murderer-at-large, but apparently the Riverton PD plays by its own rules).

Of course, the ritual doesn’t go as planned, and the Ripper shows up to terrorize the town.  As an audience, we’re supposed to attribute the fact that he’s become an overweight, long-haired biker-bar outcast to years of living in the woods and eating animals—a far cry from the average-looking suburban dad at the start of the picture.  But the story does so little to connect these elements that my first reaction was that this was a costume worn by someone else who simply wanted people to think the Ripper had returned (a Hagrid costume, to be precise).

Both theories turn out to be correct.

Kind of.

I think.

The screenplay leaves everything so wide open for interpretation that at the end of the movie I honestly didn’t know who/what the killer was.  Based on the clues, it could have been:

  1. The actual Ripper who, I guess, spies on the ritual every year waiting to find out if he’ll spend the next week killing teenagers or the next year pouting in the woods
  2. The ghost of the Ripper
  3. Bug (Max Thieriot), the blonde emo teen, with an inexplicable nickname and a penchant for talking to himself in different voices
  4. Bug’s best friend, Alex (John Magaro), a fidgety weirdo whose idea of retro hipsterism is dressing like Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter
  5. A soul-swallowing demon that assumes the identities of each of its victims

Any one of these could be the answer to the film’s central mystery; it doesn’t help that My Soul to Take doesn’t seem to know what that mystery is.  Craven spends so much time having his characters ramble on about the ability of some birds to eat souls and examining the social hierarchy of the high school that he leaves zero room for the murder plot to breathe.  After the convoluted opening, there are two big scenes where stuff actually happens.

The first involves the Ripper killing three of the seven kids in the span of five minutes, in one location, in the middle of the movie; the second has the rest of the kids all showing up at Bug’s house during the climax—and not in a “we should meet and figure out how to stop this guy” way; it’s more like, “we need to wrap this up, so we’ll have one of the other kids inexplicably fall out of a closet; don’t worry, he’ll explain how he ended up in the closet, how he got stabbed, and how he has faith that Bug can kill the Ripper—in a two-minute soliloquy delivered as if he’d just run the hundred-yard dash, and not gutted like a pig.”

My Soul to Take might have had a chance were Wes Craven paired up with a screenwriter.  The reason Scream put him back on the horror map in 1996 (and put horror back on the movie map, following its lost half-decade) is because Kevin Williamson knew how to write dialogue for teenagers as well as set up a satisfying Whodunnit.  It’s obvious from his latest movie that Craven doesn’t understand teenagers anymore—either in terms of characterization or what they’re willing to sit through in a theatre between creative kills (the kills here aren’t even creative; we get one knife attack after another, and ninety percent of the violence is off-screen or obscured by shadows—it’s practically a PG-13 film).  In an era where some television commercials aren’t short enough to keep kids from flipping open their cell phones, why did Craven think a dense plot with the through-line of a bowl of spaghetti and no pay-off would capture the imagination of his target audience?

Maybe he thought the 3D gimmick would lure them in.  Yes, this is another 3D horror movie and, like Piranha 3D, it is being offered almost exclusively in that format.  I paid $10.50 for a 3pm screening, and the extra-dimensional experience began and ended with the trailer for Saw 3D.  Honestly, I don’t know how the people at Rogue Pictures can live with their decision to upcharge patrons for a film that doesn’t contain a single 3D-worthy moment.  If I want to experience the “wow” factor of seeing characters stand out against a background, I’ll visit a Sony Style store and demo one of their new 3D TVs for free.  When I’m wearing funny glasses in a horror movie, there’d better be guts and heads flying past my face—at minimum—every fifteen to twenty minutes.

That lame stunt just compounds the squirmy nightmare that is My Soul to Take.  I typically hate it when someone tells me they’ve just watched one of the worst movies they’ve ever seen—because I know for a fact that they haven’t seen half the awful shit I’ve watched, which places their opinion near the “Irrelevant” end of the Taste Spectrum.  It’s the reason that I try to avoid such hyperbole—good or bad—when talking about movies.  But for Wes Craven, I’ll make an exception:

My Soul to Take isn’t just the worst film of the year, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.