mysoultotake2sm.jpg

They're Fingering the Wrong Culprit

By Agent Bedhead | Film | October 11, 2010 | Comments ()

By Agent Bedhead | Film | October 11, 2010 |


mysoultotake2sm.jpg

Before heading into this movie, I couldn't help but gleefully muse, "I wonder if Wes Craven can still bring it." Yeah, I grew up in the 1980s, so my general appreciation of Craven's work is more nostalgic than genuine. Beyond the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, this guy hasn't done much to deserve a reputation as one of the so-called "masters of horror." Now, after the first few acts of his latest cinematic effort, My Soul to Take 3D, I've begun speculate whether Wes Craven ever truly brought it. Sure, there've been a few genuine flashes of inspiration throughout the man's enviably enduring career, but the actual execution of Craven's ideas have generally been an altogether different matter than their conception would allow one to believe. Just look at Freddy Krueger (the original), who has always been scarier as a freestanding entity than within any of the Elm Street films ever proved themselves to be, which is to say not really frightening at all. But Freddy was always a pretty affable villain and one who, if not for his general physical hideousness and murderous tendencies, might actually be a cool guy with which to knock back a few drinks (in the company of several friends and a steady supply of double espressos, natch) while trading wisecracking quips. Essentially, Craven's luck in creating Freddy has paved an entire career that would otherwise be seen as an endless cycle of stab-bleed-repeat within moderately tolerable horror flicks.

With My Soul to Take 3D, there's no such charismatic character to lead the charge. Beyond a serial killer named Abel Plenkov (Raúl Esparza), a.k.a. "Riverton Ripper," who dies in the opening scene, none of the players -- super-religious Penelope (Zena Grey); date-rapey jock Brandon (Nick Lashaway); blonde Brittany (Paulina Olszynski); as well as Jerome (Denzel Whitaker), Alex (John Magaro), and Jay (Jeremy Chu) -- really qualify as characters at all. Most of them are so bloody indistinguishable that it's easy to confuse the shit out of them, which is probably why it's not completely annoying that nearly every line of Craven's dialogue begins with one actor speaking the name of another player before going any further. As in, "Brittany, you bitch, give me a blow job." and "Bug, why don't you look in the mirror sometime?" It's very informative stuff for certain, but that brings us to Craven's little pet Bug (Max Theriot), who receives most of the attention, since he's an outcast who's clearly got some issues -- migraines; panic attacks; supernatural visions; a propensity to start mimicking voices of others -- which, as a whole, would seem to point towards a new incarnation of the Ripper's spirit. But Craven's just stabbing at an outdated sense of cleverness to distract his presumably stupid audience, so he doesn't go for the most obvious explanation for the killer's identity. Nope -- he goes for the second most obvious one; sadly, Mr./Ms. second-place receives so little focus that Craven might very well have flipped a series of coins to get there.

Not only does Craven's script lack characterization, but he weaves a non-comprehensible story that wastes screen time on the most unimportant plot points. Early on, we learn that the Riverton Ripper earned his nickname when his supposedly dead body reanimated itself during an ambulance ride and took out a few paramedics, thereby causing the vehicle to crash and burst into flames near the river. Naturally, the Ripper's body disappeared from the vehicle, which led to legends that persisted for the sixteen years preceding the present. Accordingly, "Ripper Day" -- which, for whatever reason, plays out like some bizarre celebration -- serves as the annual reminder for those who believe that the Ripper will someday rise from the river and take his (rather unjustified and inexplicable) revenge. This year, things feel particularly ominous for the seven teenagers who just happened to be born on that fateful day, and they figure that either the Ripper will possess one of their souls or just come back and kill them the old-fashioned way. Of course, it doesn't even matter which of these alternatives come to pass, for anyone who knows Wes Craven movies also knows that these kids are toast.

Unfortunately, Craven falters after the semi-promising and satisfactorily disturbing (albeit craptastically campy) pre-credits sequence, which takes cues not only from his own past films but also the works of different horror directors (primarily John Carpenter, among others). Afterwards, the atmosphere of terror maintains a slow simmer for about ten minutes before completely dissipating like dry ice. Craven's usual manner of knocking off victims like bowling pins doesn't work for My Soul to Take, primarily because the story impedes itself through an extended stretch of BFF-related tomfoolery involving Bug, who decides to spy on a chit-chat session going on between Brittany and a goth bully named Fang (Emily Meade) in the girl's bathroom. It's a scene that only exists because, somehow, a foreign cellphone ends up in Brittany's purse, which is such a trivial development and could have been done in a much simpler way. But just as Craven pays too much attention to the unimportant things, he displays terrible clumsiness with the most obvious details, which also just happen to do with that same phone. Although this is a mild spoiler (not really, since the blonde always gets it), Brittany eventually dies and bleeds all over her purse and that damn phone, but both items are later shown in pristine condition at the murder scene. And that's just the beginning of nonsensical groundwork that only leads to more idiocy.

Oh right, I nearly forgot to mention the 3D work, which wasn't shot natively but added during the post-production process. As such, 3D effects are entirely useless except for the moment when an ambulance crashes and flies into the audience. Otherwise, the added price point lends absolutely nothing to the picture; that is, unless a dim screen (and, consequently, several moments when action is barely visible) could be considered an advantage (it is not) in terms of suspense. En route to the long-awaited conclusion, My Soul to Take would have been lost within these murky visuals; but luckily, the meandering story already did that job. However, the overriding problem is Craven's tendency to let the players talk too much, and he doesn't spread the joy around between roles either. Craven spends so much damn time infusing one persona with enough disturbing eccentricities that the real killer, quite literally, has to end the movie by setting himself up with yet another fifteen-minute speech to explain everything all over again. This comes in such sharp contrast to the first Scream movie -- wherein presumed killer Cotton Weary doesn't get much screen time in the first place, and the two (already semi-suspicious) guilty parties make their admissions short and sweet, so it works -- that one really has to wonder whether Wes Craven has forgotten to check his former playbook. Then again, Craven didn't write the Scream script, so perhaps his upcoming directing-only gig with Scream 4 might fare better than My Soul to Take. If not, maybe he and George Romero could pitch in on a timeshare somewhere -- anywhere -- that doesn't allow movie cameras.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.


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