Wes Craven’s reputation as a master of horror has a tendency to precede him. The man brought us the likes of Freddy Krueger so to entirely dismiss him would be both tragic and ill-advised. Still, it’s difficult to see the remnants of a man who brought on such a classic slasher figure like Krueger, when looking at his latest venture, My Soul to Take.
The film is riddled with problems, but one of the most striking is its inconsistency with characters. The first example that comes to mind is the voice of each individual. With the exception of the characters that are limited to a few minutes screen time or minimal dialogue, each character has at least one moment where the thrown-together characterization becomes too much. Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt the desire to just leave the room while the movie’s still on, but My Soul to Take has the distinct honor of being just difficult enough to watch that I gave in to the urge a couple of times. And just so we’re clear, it isn’t one of those “difficult to watch” movies because it’s particularly brutal or excessive, it’s just that boring.
Back to this idea of Craven’s unfamiliarity with his own characters, it becomes problematic for the film early on. I’m not one to hold a director’s own baggage against him, but as you watch the teens flit about onscreen, it’s difficult to avoid entertaining the idea that Wes Craven may be over the hill. His total disconnect with youth culture at the age of 71 would make it difficult to write believable teenage characters for just about anyone. Unfortunately for Mr. Craven, I wasn’t a teen that long ago. These moments of disbelief are numerous, but even more problematic is that so many of them are in the film’s beginning when we’re supposed to be getting to know our characters, but with such contrived characterization, it’s hard to know anything about them, much less connect with them. One of the most glaring examples happens within the first 15 minutes when Bug receives his first cell phone on his 16th birthday. It’s such a minor detail, but it’s so alarmingly unrealistic that pet peeves like that sink the movie early on.
But one of the other things that makes the film a chore is its total lack of any real fear. Sure, in theory, the idea of a serial killer from beyond the grave is frightening. I mean, it was in Nightmare on Elm Street but there’s something missing in My Soul to Take. My best guess is that it’s the villain himself. The Riverton Ripper has virtually no characterization other than faulty pop psychology. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but when this is paired with his total lack of screen time with the exception of a few jump scares, he becomes expected and tired after only a few scenes. The worst offense committed against the Riverton Ripper is the several lines of dialogue he’s afforded. they have the comical sensibility of Freddy’s one-liners, but it becomes stunningly clear around the third act that we were supposed to be taking this character seriously all along.
Finally, although the film does score points for having an unpredictable “twist” ending, I’m not too sure that’s a good thing. Although it’s unexpected, that’s mainly because it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Then, in an effort to quell audience’s fears about any logic, the film proceeds to overexplain any few pieces of subtlety that remain. Moments that could have been filled with a knowing glance or a haunting score are plagued by inane chatter to explain any real lack of logic.
My Soul to Take is a uniquely frustrating movie. It’s inconsistencies overwhelm it throughout all of its twists and turns. After starting out with a promising bloodbath, the movie over-indulges its characters by trying to piece together some mythos or superstition for the rest of the film to rest on. Instead, it consists of a half-baked hero and villain with a few decent slasher sequences. In the end, I couldn’t help but feel that Wes Craven’s previous foray into writing and directing, 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, should have been his last.