It’s always difficult to predict what you’re going to get from director Wes Craven. Sometimes it’s a genre classic like The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream; exceptional scare films that spawned a slew of copycats. On other occasions, Craven produces complete misfires in the form of The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Deadly Friend or his latest failure, My Soul to Take.
After brutally murdering his wife, a schizophrenic killer known as the Riverton Ripper is captured by authorities, but he disappears after the ambulance transferring him from the crime scene crashes. Some sixteen years later to the day, a group of seven teenagers celebrate their birthday, telling tales of the slayer by the wreckage of that very accident — which has never been removed. When the youngsters begin to die violently, Bug (Max Thieriot), a bullied, ornithology-obsessed teen soon becomes the center of audience suspicion.
Is the Riverton Ripper still alive? Or is Bug a schizophrenic killer? Could the murders be coming from a copycat? Or has the Ripper’s soul been transferred into Bug, possessing him? Or is one of the other teens under the murderer’s supernatural control? Is it a combination of some, or all of the above? Or are we just witnessing the inner workings of a mind shattering into pieces?
While Bug (and the viewers) attempt to figure it all out, our hero experiences personality shifts and strange episodes in which murder weapons appear in his hands and the souls of victims speak to him. At one point, Bug aggressively shouts his way through a class presentation while his partner swoops around the classroom in a giant condor outfit, vomiting on other students. Yes, this really occurs…
Later in the film, as the protagonist furiously smashed a mysterious rocking horse into little wooden pieces, a viewer in my theater actually shouted out in frustration, “I have no idea what is going on, or why!” In fact, the motivations of all of the characters, from a superstitious medic to a ridiculously ineffective cop to the teens themselves, become so increasingly odd that it’s extremely difficult to relate to any of them. As a result, when they are put in danger, there’s little suspense or excitement.
The bewildering climax involves so many characters freely letting themselves in and out of Bug’s family home that it almost resembles a sitcom. One teen, as if expecting the audience to be completely baffled as to his sudden appearance, spends his dying breaths not in agony or fighting for his life, but telling a stilted and lengthy tale of how he managed to get himself into such a bizarre location in the first place. Not surprisingly, the final reveal and wrap up don’t make much logical sense either.
The post 3D conversion employed also does little to add anything to the experience. Several scenes in the film take place at night or in the darkness and, added to the natural dim of a 3D projection, much of the film looks too murky and dark. Sadly, a cartoon condor that glides across the screen above the end credits is the 3D highlight.
Make no mistake, Wes Craven is more than deserving of the many accolades over his career and he will bounce back, but this effort just…. boggles the mind. As a reviewer, never before have I wondered whether the projectionist had accidentally skipped a reel, or if in my ignorance, I had simply failed to process some crucial information that would clear up several confusing incongruities. For the time being, the enigma that is My Soul to Take will continue to bewilder.
1 out of 5