'My Soul To Take,' the latest from seasoned horror director Wes Craven, is a truly fascinating film. In order to appreciate what is fascinating about it, however, one must approach the film the same way they would the body of a frog or snake that has been mutated by toxic waste and preserved under glass as a painful reminder of what can happen when known polluters are allowed to continue about their business unsupervised. It has all of the right body parts to be a movie, but it has too many of them and they all unify together in ways that are both baffling and impossible for survival. And like a frog with seven legs and two heads, it is simultaneously saddening, horrifying, and totally engrossing to watch 'My Soul To Take' go about its fleeting life blissfully unaware that it's an abomination.
If such a comparison sounds overly harsh or even sensationalist, then you clearly haven't seen Craven's defiantly bad slasher. Yes, in his better days Craven gave the world 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'The Serpent and the Rainbow,' and 'Scream,' but keep in mind that he's also responsible for 'Cursed,' 'Shocker,' 'The Hills Have Eyes Part II,' 'Chiller' and 'Vampire in Brooklyn.' The man is certainly capable of making less-than-stellar horror films and 'My Soul To Take' is unfortunately one of them.
The film opens with the sleepy burg of Riverton jolted awake by the murderous rampage of a man whose multiple personality disorder has kept him from realizing that he's actually a serial killer. And he's a surprisingly resilient serial killer at that; after multiple stab wounds, gun shots and a car crash, the police who captured him (and thus the audience) can't be convinced that they've properly killed their suspect once his body goes missing at the river's edge. Fast forward sixteen years to the anniversary of the Riverton Ripper's killings, which just so happens to be the birthday of seven teenagers in town. (Was there a blackout or something nine months prior to his rampage?)
In typical Wes Craven fashion, however, his teenagers aren't like normal teenagers; they're horror movie teenagers who each represent a different walk of life but who apparently all live in homes with absentee parents. They celebrate their collective birthday by attempting to resurrect the Riverton Ripper at the water's edge where his body went missing. It's an annual tradition the kids look forward to, you see, but this year the cops bust up the ceremony before Bug (Max Thieriot), the questionably shy member of the group who is also the star of the film, can successfully slay the elaborate effigy of the Riverton Ripper the kids made. And thus the legend goes that the killer's soul is now free to stalk the quiet town once again.
This second opening, despite its absurdities, is actually one of the film's only positives. Sure, it's silly and the characterizations introduced within are unwaveringly by the book, but Craven's attempt to play with how urban legends evolve is admirable. Everyone has a different version of the Ripper's story, which does pay off when it comes time to figure out who has started killing the Riverton Seven. Regrettably the only reason it pays off is because Craven's refusal to pin down the rules of his own horror film effectively means there are no rules. 'My Soul To Take' will keep you guessing as to the identity of the killer, sure, but that's only because there's such a clustercuss of evidence and theories presented to the audience that it's just as likely to be the Ripper's soul reincarnated in one of the teens as it is a giant California Condor, which is apparently an animal Craven saw a nature special on and decided to wedge it into his script in as many hamfisted ways as possible.
When it's not biding its sweet time between kills, all of which are Lame with a capital L, 'My Soul To Take' muses about Native American mythology surrounding the absorption of souls, which is weird because it also involves characters that have a direct (and reciprocal!) line of communication with God and characters who only know what's going on because their voodoo priest grandmother told them what's what. This patchwork of conflicting ideologies might even be remotely amusing were it not so darned boring and constantly in the way of building any modicum of tension or fear regarding the fate of these hapless teens.
Instead of writing a script that can generate actual fear, Craven relies on stagnate jump scares and sudden clashes of musical instruments to scare the audience. It never works, of course, but that doesn't stop him from trying such tactics again and again and again. Plus, even though the story is convoluted enough to keep you guessing, chances are your instinct as to who the killer is will end up being correct once the laughably long climax comes to a close. So what we're given is a horror movie that's not only lacking in any real horror (some decent gore would have at least been a yellow ribbon consolation prize for genre fans), but is obnoxiously cliched despite its...unique...premise.
Oh, and, as for the post-conversion 3-D that most poor souls will likely pay extra to see 'My Soul to Take' in? It contributes absolutely nothing to the film. In fact, the only thing that's good about the 3-D is that you can use the glasses as a prop to be dramatically ripped from your head whenever the film makes you want to massage your throbbing brain. You might want to warn the person sitting next to you, though, because you'll be doing this so much they may think you're having a seizure.