Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Gray, Nick Lashaway
OK, I’m aware of the fact that I’m supposed to hate Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take. Even people who are none-too-choosy about horror movies hate it. And I mean hate it, with the kind of fervor I tend to reserve for movies with talking animals. Problem is, I don’t hate the movie at all. I cannot and will not claim that it’s good, but not only did I have fun watching it—some of the fun Craven perhaps didn’t intend for me to have—but I found it to be an interesting movie. And I found it even more interesting in terms of Craven’s filmography. I’ll also admit that I was happy to see an attempt at an R-rated horror movie that in no way was torture porn. The film’s detractors may argue that in this case it’s the audience that’s being tortured, but I’m not on board with that.
Nevertheless, as I say, this isn’t really a good movie. The story is on the silly side, and the basic premise is not exactly inspired: Seven children are born in a small town at the exact moment a serial killer (stage actor Raul Esparza) maybe meets his demise, and 16 years later murders start happening again. Plus, the movie wants to have it both ways—with the whole “is the Riverton Ripper still alive or did his soul duck into one of these babies?” idea—and it doesn’t pull it off. The plotting is clunky and rife with holes. These holes, however, are often amusing. I mean, did our hero, Bug (Max Thieriot, Chloe), just happen to have a lot of feathers on hand to whip up overnight the film’s elaborate condor costume (don’t ask), or did he run out and denude a few turkeys? And from what did he create the presumably ersatz condor puke and bowel eruption (please don’t ask)?
It gets worse—or better, depending on your taste for screwiness. Why does the Ripper look like a shabby Rob Zombie? He looked pretty presentable when he was seen in the prologue. Speaking of the prologue, why is he harder to kill than the love child of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers? There’s nothing supernatural going on at that point—or is there? There’s a plot twist that you’ll see long before it reveals itself, but when it does, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll burst out laughing—or at least be seized by unseemly giggles. What you’ll make of a strange re-working of the mirror scene from Duck Soup (1933), I can’t even guess. We can throw in that the retrofitted 3-D is so lame that it might as well not be there, which really makes the “special event” admission surcharge seem like a cash grab.
So why am I kinda sorta not really recommending, but mildly defending this movie? Well, as noted, I had fun with it. I was entertained. I wasn’t repelled by it as I have been with so many recent horror pictures. That may, in fact, be why so many horror fans are trashing it—it’s out of step with the times. It’s not nasty for its own sake. This isn’t the Craven of Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977)—or their non-Craven remakes. It’s more Craven in “local legend” form and without the postmodern snarkiness of the Scream franchise. If anything, this movie’s greatest weakness may be that it’s too sincere—and too silly to support that.
Also in its favor is the fact that I actually liked the characters. I thought they were reasonably well drawn, and I got the sense that Craven himself liked them. I’m intrigued by his creation of Penelope (Zena Grey, In Good Company). She first appears like the teenage version of Piper Laurie’s Margaret White from Carrie (1976), but her Jesus-freak demeanor turns out to be more complex than that and she’s actually sympathetic and weirdly likable. It feels like Craven has made peace with his repressively religious childhood. It’s too bad he kills her off fairly early—but then, he wastes no time killing off most of the cast, robbing the film of much in the way of suspense.
The place where Craven errs the most is in his villain. The Ripper is fine as a tortured psycho of the multiple-personality-disorder kind in the prologue—at least till the “can’t kill him with a stick” biz kicks in. But the later Rob Zombie version is just plain weird. He is like a cheesy funhouse creation. In fact, he practically jumps out and says, “Boo!” I won’t say it’s not funny, but I will say it’s not very scary—except maybe the first murder, which comes so out of nowhere that you’re apt to think it’s a dream-sequence gag, only it’s not. Still, it’s not enough.
So should you go or stay home? Probably the latter, but if you go in knowing that it’s clunky, silly, out of step and that you’re really being gigged by the 3-D charge, you might get some fun out of it. Maybe. Rated R for strong bloody violence and pervasive language, including sexual references.