a Primal Root written review
Man, oh, man, do I remember a time when Wes Craven was the man. When he was the sick hippie sadist who brought us flicks like the brutal rape/revenge classic Last House on the Left and the road-trip mutant fiasco film, The Hills Have Eyes. He created (althoughRobert Englund deserves just as much credit) the most iconic and important boogieman of the last 30 years in hideously scarred, murderous, dreamstalker, Freddy Krueger… He even brought the slasher film back for a post-modern rebirth with the Kevin Williamson-penned Scream franchise. But then something went horribly wrong. Scream 3 sucked. As did his werewolf flick, Cursed…Red Eye was really his last decent film before he went into producer mode and got on board the remake wagon to oversee the re-imaginings of some of his beloved earlier works with varying degrees of success…
And then, in 2010, Wes Craven came back with a new and original horror film in 2010! One that would prove once again why he is considered a Master of Horror! A supernatural horror film about schizophrenia, possession, soul collecting, California Condors, superstition, urban legend, prayer, pregnancy, blow jobs and two male leads who have terrible hair look like they smell even worse. Oh yes, here comes My Soul to Take…IN 3D!!!
As a horror fan I try to defend Wes to the best of my ability. The guy has seriously made some fantastic films, many of which he penned himself. He’s created memorable, timeless horror classics that are still viewed, still entertaining and still discussed today. He once upon a time proved that truly memorable horror didn’t just go after your guts, but after your mind as well. Sure, you can gross people out but if you really want your audience to be thinking about your movie when they go to bed the best place to attack is upstairs where their deepest, darkest fears live.
My Soul to Take was the last straw.
Our film begins with a grizzly killing spree in which a husband and father has the revelation that he is “The Ripper”, a serial killer that’s been going around town gutting folks with his super cool knife he must have ordered from swordsofmight.com. See, this fellow didn’t realize he was “The Ripper” because he’s schizophrenic…*sigh*. He calls his shrink but it’s already too late because he’s already slashed up and killed his pregnant wife. When the police arrive he has stabbed himself multiple time and is about to hack up his tiny daughter when the cops blow him away. But not very well. Because this asshole wakes up for approximately a dozen goddamn jump scares that are far more hilarious than they are shocking. The film’s prologue ends with an ambulance explosion, about five more dead bodies and three critically injured…and the killer somehow crawls off the gurney and is never heard from again…
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER!
Turns out on the night The Ripper was killed SEVEN children were born. That’s right, seven kids in this small community were born on the night The Ripper died. And on their collective birthday these kids go down to the river and perform some kind of passion play where they invoke The Ripper’s spirit and then knock over a puppet…I dunno. The cops show up just as all our stock characters are listed off. Several of them gather behind a fallen log o spend what feels like 20 fucking minutes discussing the myths and urban legend surrounding The Ripper. See, we already know everything that happened. We just saw it at the very beginning of the film. So to hear all these stories surrounding The Ripper is mind numbingly tedious.
We’ve all seen Wes Craven’s magnum opus, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Remember how well Freddy’s back story was handled? It was always kept in the shadows. It was whispered about and the audience learned along with our hero Nancy just who her nemesis was. This added to our interest as an audience and gave the whole film a veil of mystery and suspense. When you show your audience from the outset what the back story of your villain is there’s not much left to reveal. But, then again, we still haven’t gotten to the California Condor/ Soul Collector shit yet…
Once My Soul to Take’s opening gore soaked hilarity comes to an end and our 7 possibly evil teens are introduced the pacing slows down to a snail’s pace. After one teen is dispatched in a relatively well handled murder sequence the film, once again, takes detour into Expositionville, where it spends the majority of its running time. We get a little taste of all 6 (sorry, one dies early on) of these kids’ lives but none of them are developed. Even our lead red herring, Bug, is never clearly defined. We know he makes really cool puppets and costumes, speaks in creepy voices, likes the blonde girl but is only liked by the red headed uber-christian…I dunno, he’s the lead and I can’t tell you anything more about him than this without revealing any of the twists you’ll guess right from the beginning. Still, I will try to be a gentleman and let you figure it out on your own.
It’s apparent that the creative force behind My Soul to Take has no clear grip on what it is to be a teenager in America. All the typical Breakfast Club characters are present. The pretty one, the outcast, the nerd, the unbelievably violent jock…with the added bonus of an asian weho has 5 minutes screen time, a blind black kid who has 10 and a very attractive red head fire and brimstone religious fanatic. Do any of these character or their clichéd traits add anything of significance to the story? Are you kidding?! Of course not. They all end up as lunch meat and do little more than walk around uttering mundane, ridiculous dialog that you would never hear come out of a teenager’s mouth.
Our teeny-boppers attend a droll and disturbingly empty high school. Really, the school is gigantic yet the only people we ever see in the halls or out in the courtyard are our key players. There’s no hustle or bustle between classes and even the gigantic hallways remain empty as our teen protagonists trade off meaningless, vapid dialog for endless, yawn educing stretches.
And The Ripper himself (Which is my nickname every time I eat a helping of baked beans) is little more than a dreary, watered down potty mouthed amalgam of Freddy and Horace Pinker dressed up in a zombie Bob Marley costume. There’s also shades of Ghostface from the Scream franchise because The Ripper can’t just stalk and kill these kids. He has to give them taunting cell phone calls beforehand.
Come to think of it, it’s almost as if Wes Craven put a handful of his films (Shocker, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) in a blender and hit puree. Hell, there’s even elements from the lesser Nightmare films to be found. Remember that lame plot device Renny Harlin used in Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master? The one where Alice absorbed the souls of her friends when they died and she could utilize the one character trait that made them unique (i.e. karate, strength training, um, the power to plug things into outlets and press the power button…) and used those abilities to defeat Freddy in the end? Well, a certain character in My Soul to Take has the same ability. He’s called the keeper of souls *face palm* only he doesn’t use any of their unique characteristics to defeat The Ripper, I mean what would he use? Blindness? Faith in God? Extreme Bitchiness? Constant Requests for blow jobs? These are not the weapons one needs to defeat a possibly supernatural monster intent on ripping out your lower intestine and using it as a jump rope.
No, this time around the souls help him figure out probability equations…to figure out the identity of the killer. Could it be one of the 7 kids (obviously not that one that dies in the beginning) or is it The Ripper returned from the grave? Or did The Ripper never die? The answer to this question is a lot lamer than you might initially think.
My Soul to Take is a film chock full of ideas, not good ones, but ideas nonetheless. Craven just can’t seem to find a way to incorporate all of them and leave space to realistically develop his characters or give them understandable motivations and instead just gives them endless scenes where they try and explain to the audience just what in the name of Hell is even happening. I just watched this film and I couldn’t even tell you what the sentiment was. Did Craven have anything to say? Near the conclusion of the film one characters whines out a line similar to, “People shouldn’t kill eachother all the time!” Yeah…what a message.
Well, My Soul to Take is a hunk of complete crap. I have to cut this review short because I could go one for another 2,000 words laying out every gripe I have with this flick. And this is coming from a guy who loves Trash Cinema. Maybe one day I will be able to laugh at this failure, but in the hands of Wes Craven, I expect more. I expect better.
With Scream 4 on the horizon let us all hope Wes Craven can regain some of the edge he once had and bring us something worth our time. I hope Craven can redeem himself. He’s an intelligent and talented man who should know what works in the genre by now. But after watching My Soul to Take, I cannot help but sense a sense of sadness and dread that one of the best lost his touch. Over a decade ago.
My Soul to Take. Your time to waste.
-The Primal Root