Review: 'My Soul to Take' Takes Wes Craven's Soul & Little Else
by Jeremy Kirk
October 9, 2010
In the five years since his last directed feature film, and in the 16 years since the last film he both wrote and directed, Wes Craven, a modern Master of Horror, has certainly picked up the gift for gab. Sure, his more recent films, especially the Kevin Williamson-written films in the Scream franchise, have always been a bit dialogue-heavy. With My Soul to Take, though, Craven has taken exposition and oration and crammed as much of it into his film as possible. It really becomes the villain of the film, more dreaded and hated by the viewer than the idea of a soul-stealing serial killer. If that is what My Soul to Take is really about.
The setting works well. Craven can pull off the small-town America feeling in a clinch, and the atmosphere he injects into the town of Riverton here is undeniable. In this town, 16 years ago, a serial killer lurks known as the Riverton Ripper. The Ripper was caught, believed to have been shot and killed by the police, but not before he vowed to come back and take the souls of the seven children born the same night he was put to rest.
It's 16 years later. The children born on that night are now high schoolers. For the past number of years, on their birthday, they have performed a ritual that has seemingly kept the Ripper's ghost at bay. It's this year, the year Bug (Max Thieriot), a shy and awkward teen, is chosen as the representative to habitually ward off the evil spirit. Something goes wrong, the ritual is not completed, and the teens known as the Riverton Seven begin disappearing.
There's little denying the look and feel of My Soul to Take as belonging to Craven. The director has anything but lost his style. The slick look of the film, the tone of it that lets you know whose hands you are firmly in, helps. Knowing what you are watching is positively Craven puts you in the right mood, the feeling that the man is incredibly gifted in this field.
Craven is also gifted in creating the look of a villain. This is the guy, mind you, who came up with the look of Freddy Krueger. With the Ripper, the look is definitely there, and the way he is shot helps hide any problems that might be present.
Unfortunately, atmosphere can only take you so far, and, eventually, the narrative and screenplay have to take over. This is where My Soul to Take falls off the proverbial cliff, tumbled all the way to the bottom, and bursts into flames. Those flames, by the way, are built on words and words and more words. This is seriously the talkiest horror movie in recent memory.
Generally, and I say this as someone who loves a good scarefest, the best horror films progress, move at an even pace and break up the tension and scenes of violence or suspense with moments of dialogue, exposition or otherwise. In My Soul to Take, the opposite happens. It's a film built on dialogue with scene after scene after scene of people standing around talking about the Ripper or what this day in their lives means. It's the moments of people talking that are broken up by sporadic scenes of bloody violence, and it happens very early on in the film that you find yourself losing interest.
It's even more unfortunate that, with all the dialogue in the film, the characters feel thin as rice paper. Exposition seems to be the only friend any of these characters have when it comes to development, but even that never gives you any sense of who they are or what anyone's motives seem to be.
It doesn't help that the editing here is a huge mess. My Soul to Take is probably the worst paced film Craven has ever directed, with a hurry-up-and-get-there attitude followed by long scenes of colloquy-laden tedium. The opening scenes, the moments that set everything up, are so choppily constructed, it's near impossible to even pull out any discernible sense of establishment. We're never really sure if the character we are seeing is the Ripper, if he actually dies, and if who is stalking the kids 16 years later is a ghost or a body-jumping demon.
It's the worst kind of narrative issues to have, because you know somewhere in the countless lines of exposition, something is explained about this, but you've long since begun drowning that all out. You're watching a horror movie. You just want some action, and, sadly, very little comes your way.
Even when the action hits, it's in quick bursts, not the drawn out chase scenes that might set some sense of suspense in motion. As well as the Ripper might look, he can never come off as menacing as he needs to be. Craven simply doesn't allow the villain to become any kind of character other than a sideswiping force that removes characters from the plot.
Craven is doing something with certain underlying themes, though. Bug and his best friend are fascinated with birds. The notion of carrion birds and taking the souls of the animals they feed upon away is very interesting. Sadly very little besides more talking about it comes from this, but there is an odd classroom scene where Bug's friend, Alex, played with fervent eccentricity by John Magaro, dresses as a giant bird. It's weird, and the places it goes are even odder, but there's a creepiness about it that really isn't found anywhere else in the film.
It's also the only scene in My Soul to Take, the ONLY scene, where the idea of 3-D delivers anything. The film was post-converted, as seems to be necessary these days, and for absolutely no reason. Sure, the 3-D effects aren't horrendous, something positive that can actually be said about it, but, when you're watching scenes in rooms with people word-dueling back and forth for 15-20 minutes, the only question that stems from the presence of 3-D is "Why?".
My Soul to Take is a horror film with very little horror, a mess in regards to structure and narrative. The atmosphere is there. The film feels like a Wes Craven film, and when that's the main goal of a film, you begin to question why it exists at all. Craven's soul might be in My Soul to Take, but the film takes that sense of vitality and talks it to death. You know, real horror.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10