Written and Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Max Thieriot, Nick Lashaway, and Zena Grey
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Fear ye the Ripper!"
Wes Craven is no stranger to having his films shelved by a studio; two of his more infamous bombs, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 and Cursed, were in the can for months before they were unleashed on unsuspecting viewers. It’s happened again with his latest effort, My Soul to Take, which was announced under the bewildering title 25/8 years ago. Even though initial filming wrapped last year, it’s only now being released. During the lengthy delay, the film sprouted a third dimension and the dreaded stigma that comes with any film that languishes in post-production hell.
Sixteen years ago, the town of Riverton was haunted by a mass murderer; he was caught after he murdered his pregnant wife and attempted to kill his young daughter. The slasher didn’t go down without a fight, though, as he refused to die and even continued his murderous ways in the back of an ambulance, which exploded after a wreck en route to the hospital. The Riverton Ripper’s body was never recovered, and the night was also marked by the bizarre birth of seven pre-mature children. Each year, the town marks the occasion with “Ripper Day,” with the kids kicking off the celebration each year with a ritualistic “killing” of the Ripper. This year, the festivities are interrupted by the police, and, in true horror film fashion, someone actually does show up and begin killing the “Riverton Seven.” Whispers abound that the Ripper’s sprit has returned and possessed one of the teens in an attempt to take vengeance.
Since this project was announced, I thought it was a pretty clear mash-up of two previous Craven films. The murderous ghost returning to take revenge on children is an obvious call back to A Nightmare on Elm Street, while the possession angle is very reminiscent of Shocker (right down to one of the characters being the offspring of the killer). As it turns out there’s also a little bit of Serpent and the Rainbow (in the form of some half-hearted Haitian voodoo talk) and Scream thrown in for good measure. It all gets cobbled together into an absurd and inept narrative that will leave you wondering why Craven decided for this to be his first script in fifteen years. It wreaks of someone who is shaking off the cobwebs and who feels content to merely borrow from previous films; in a way, this is like Wes Craven’s Greatest Hits, only they feel like they’re being played by a crappy cover band as part of a lounge act.
Tonally speaking, it plays much closer to Shocker, as this is mostly popcorn fare, whether Craven intended for it to be or not. It shares that film’s frantic, ADD-riddled pacing too, as it can never really settle down and decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Things start out with an fun, frenetic opening sequence that’s full of false starts and stops, not to mention plenty of bloodshed. After this, the film settles down a bit and introduces the urban legend quality of the Ripper tale, which is effective enough (it’s hard to screw up a good local legend tale). It’s all downhill from there though, as we’re introduced to our cast of characters in a high school sequence that plays as some sort of parody about bullying and high school cliques. For about fifteen minutes, the film quickly cuts between all of them, and there were times that I had little clue as to what was going on. It all really adds up to nothing but some awkward exchanges, poor dialogue, and a classroom scene involving a bird costume that’s so inane that it almost defies proper description.
To say that My Soul to Take loses its way pretty quickly would be an understatement; in fact, it quite literally gets lost in the woods and never gets out. The sloppy, meandering direction and over-reliance on exposition will have you thinking that Craven hasn’t been behind a camera in fifteen years either; I’d pin some blame on the editing, but I don’t think this one ever had a chance. The acting is woeful, and you’ll often find yourself chuckling at the exchanges between characters. I feel especially bad for Max Thieriot, who emerges as the film’s protagonist that ends up absorbing the souls of those who die around them (it seems that Craven wasn’t content to only rip-off his own Elm Street elements). This leads to some awful scenes where he takes on their personalities as well; this and other painful scenes just kill the mood and the ability to take this seriously at all. The Riverton Ripper himself doesn’t help matters either, as he’s practically a non-entity with a generic get-up and even more generic profanity-laden lines (“fuck your fucking unborn child” is a notable quote). There are some instances of gore, as the film features the usual throat slashing and stomach-gutting. Don’t expect any suspense, even during a climactic stalking sequence because Craven just chooses to assault your eyes and ears with numerous, cheap jump scares.
Expect that kind of laziness for much of the film’s run-time; having seen it, it’s become clear why Universal tacked on a post-production 3D conversion. It doesn’t help much (the film is visually bland and uninteresting), but the 3D effect isn’t as poor as you’d imagine (it's merely inconsequential). It’s little comfort though when that’s probably the only thing that seems to reflect any effort. Rest assured, if you dare venture to see this one in theaters (and you shouldn’t), you’ll be able to see Craven suck in three gloriously rendered dimensions. Some of the aforementioned Craven efforts were sabotaged by budget constraints and studio interference, but this one is all on him. While I’ve become accustomed to Craven delivering a stink bomb or two each decade, this one is an especially disappointing effort. Let’s just hope he’s shaking the doldrums off just in time for a return to glory with the Scream franchise next year. This one is a mess, though, and will leave you questioning why Universal ever took it off the shelf in the first place. Instead, they should have decided to Trash it!
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