Monday, August 22, 2011

My Soul to Take (2010)

     There were a lot of unfavorable (and that is being kind) reviews for Wes Craven's My Soul to Take (2010).  The criticisms "mindless dribble [sic]" and "a collection of the usual, lame, horror movie misdirections" are among the kinder ones offered.  Still, there might be something worthwhile in its 107 minute run time, so I gave it a chance.
     It turns out that My Soul to Take  is nowhere near as bad as mainstream and die-hard horror critics have labeled it.  It is almost good, struggling against its supposedly accessible slasher film elements.  Writer/director Wes Craven starts the film off with a killer soul (?) lurking inside a family man.  He has a lot of other souls in there, too, or just multiple personalities – because that is how schizophrenia works in horror films – and if he weren't out killing people, he'd be a loving father and husband.  But the killer soul is an insatiable one (and one that doesn't seem to have any motivation of its own) and can keep the body going even after it should either be dead or in shock.
     That is the set-up, and the killer soul is at work in some form throughout the movie.  The man who housed this killer soul came to be known as the Riverton Ripper, and a bunch of children were born on the day he may have died in a fiery ambulance crash.  These children have created a ritual where they ward off the spirit of the Riverton Ripper every year (on Ripper Day), and in the one seen in the movie one of the children, Jay (Jeremy Chu), fashions a scary puppet to represent the Ripper.  This is essentially how the Ripper appears through the rest of the movie (scary puppet is not scary monster or person, though), and there is the possibility that the events of this year's ritual is what sets everything in motion.
     Truth be told, My Soul to Take works better as an examination of the shared relationships of these children and their adolescent lives – with a couple of supernatural twists included – than it does as a slasher or horror film.  No, Craven doesn't develop these relationships enough for them to pay off in their own right – even siblings don't seem to have much of a relationship until the final act – but in individual scenes, Craven shows an oddly deft touch in making some of the adolescent hope and angst ring true.  He makes the best use of a Marx Brothers routine – with a supernatural twist – since it first appeared.
     Yes, the production values look more in line with an ABC Family channel series and there is no real rhyme or reason behind the killer soul in question.  It is just bad for the sake of being evil.  The conclusion is lackluster, and the many possibilities of who is doing the killings is more a result of denying the audience any worthwhile information than clever writing or ironic plotting.  But it does have a killer who is willing to run after the victims – and that actually worked when first seen – and attempts to build a stable of characters who would really be invested in each others lives.  On the other hand, it would have been refreshing for the lone African-American character to not also have to be the blind character.
     It is far from horrible, but it isn't exactly a good horror film either.  I would grade it a C-, noting that the scenes with Bug (Max Theiriot) and Alex (John Magaro) work better – especially in the first two-thirds of the film – as an outcasts against the in-crowd teen movie than the slasher scenes do.  I think that one of the things that frustrated other reviewers was not so much that Craven had failed to build up the audience's emotional investment in the characters' lives, but rather that he tried to do it at all instead of concentrating on more blood-soaked and gory death sequences.

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