CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a covered railroad bridge nestled snugly in the New England woods, hidden partially by an eerie fog. Close-up reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L.SOARES on bridge peering over the edge at the water below.)
LS (with a rock in his hand): I’m telling you, even from this angle, you can still skip a rock (fires rock off bridge).
(From below a hideous scream rings out.)
MA: Yeah, if you skip it off a guy’s head, like you just did. Isn’t that cheating?
LS: Nope. Anything in the water is fair game. Your turn.
MA: I dunno. I don’t think now’s the best time, not when there’s a cub scout troop practicing swimming drills down there.
(From behind them comes the sound of heavy footsteps. They turn around to see a huge, hulking figure running towards them on the bridge.)
HUGE FIGURE: I am the Ripper!
MA: Didn’t someone say in the movie, MY SOUL TO TAKE, that the best way to get rid of this guy was to spit in the water?
LS: A better idea would be to spit in this creep’s face!
MA: Actually, an even better idea would be— (lifts rock, and he and LS hurl rocks at charging Ripper, hitting him directly in the head, knocking him out cold.)
LS: Some villain!
(LS goes over and proceeds to kick the unconscious villain repeatedly)
MA: Aren’t you overdoing it a little?
LS: NO! I don’t remember being this angry leaving a movie theater in a long time. This guy deserves it.
MA: Well, actually I was thinking that if the guy you’re kicking had been in the movie more, I might have liked it more. So, maybe you ought to stop.
LS: Yeah, I’ll stop. TOMORROW! (keeps kicking)
MA: Nothing like kicking a serial killer when he’s down. Anyway, we’re here today to review MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010), the new Wes Craven horror movie.
MY SOUL TO TAKE is about a group of seven 16 year-olds who live in fear, or at least they say they do, of the ghost of the Riverton Ripper, a serial killer who was apprehended and presumably died on the night they were all born. The Ripper had multiple personalities, and on the night he was caught and allegedly killed, the personalities or souls supposedly jumped ship and hid inside the bodies of the seven babies born that night. That’s the legend that the teens, for some reason, celebrate each year.
LS: Where did this whole concept come from anyway? That they have to celebrate the Ripper’s death? That they have to create some kind of elaborate “purging” ritual? And they’ve been doing this for years It’s just bizarre.
MA: You said it. I didn’t get this at all. And it’s talked about so matter-of-factly, as if it’s homecoming weekend or something.
When these teens start dying one by one, the “mystery” which ensues is who exactly is doing the killing? Is it one of the teens possessed by the ghost of the Ripper? Is it simply the ghost of the Ripper himself? Or is it the actual Ripper, still alive all these years later, since his body was never found?
Does anyone really care? I know I didn’t.
LS: That makes two of us.
MA: MY SOUL TO TAKE has a lot of problems, but the biggest by far is I didn’t buy its story for one second. Let’s start with the basic premise of the Ripper, and how his personalities supposedly entered the teens when they were newborns. For this to be true, then the Ripper would have to be dead, for how else would a soul leave a body if it weren’t dead? Yet, the film also hints that the Ripper might not be dead, since his body was never found. Since these two storylines can’t both be true, it makes it very difficult to believe either one. It comes off as fake drama.
LS: Fake? That’s being charitable. It comes off as just plain dumb.
MA: I also didn’t buy the teens’ obsession with this thing. They perform a ritual year after year by the river where the Ripper supposedly drowned, to keep his spirit dead, but why? The film doesn’t show us why they’re so upset by all this to the point of obsession. The Ripper was killed the night they were born—Okay, sure—but they didn’t live through what he did. Is the town so obsessed with the killings that it has spilled over onto these kids? It’s something the movie doesn’t really show us. I just didn’t buy it.
LS: There’s also a some stuff about California condors and Native American mythology that just seemed hokey in the context of this movie.
MA: The teens were largely forgettable and came off like a bunch of walking hip clichés. The lead, Bug (Max Thieriot) wasn’t bad, and he actually grew on me as the movie went on. I found him creepier and creepier, as we began to see sides of him that indicated he just might be the one who’s doing the killing. Thieriot’s performance isn’t bad either. Actually, none of the performers were that bad in this one.
LS: I think you’re being charitable again. Most of the performances here are walking clichés. You can’t blame the actors for the most part – they do what they can with underwritten, lame characters. But Thieriot, in particular, is very grating. And he gets more so as we learn more about him. Bug’s entire life is a series of twists and turns he’s not aware of. From whether or not he was hospitalized in the past, to who his sister is, to who he himself really is. Every revelation is supposed to be a surprise, but instead it just made me dislike this character more. And the scenes where he goes into a strange kind of trance and imitates things other people have said (imitating their voices and mannerisms as well) was completely annoying. I think I actually hated this character.
MA: To me, the bigger problem, sadly, was the screenplay by Wes Craven.
The characters and story seemed to me to be a lame attempt at being hip, an attempt to recapture the cleverness of SCREAM (1996) and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), but in this case it just doesn’t work, because the story is not believable.
LS: This might be the worst script Craven has written so far. And it shows the influence of frequent Craven collaborator Kevin Williamson (SCREAM, CURSED), whose work I can’t stand. But Craven has done an amazing feat here, he’s written a script that makes Williamson look good in comparison.
MA: I don’t know. CURSED (2005) was pretty bad.
LS: You’re right.
MA: But back to MY SOUL TO TAKE. The characters here weren’t believable at all. We have the ultra-religious girl Penelope (Zena Gray) who is so cliché I felt insulted. You know, you can be religious without acting the way she acts in this one, like she’s from Venus or something.
LS: Poor Penelope! You know, if any Christian groups ever feel the need to protest a movie—they should be going after flicks like this one. MY SOUL TO TAKE presents us with a religious character who is so stereotypical, badly acted and over-the-top, that it’s insulting even to those who aren’t the target. She just seems nuts. She talks only in a kind of badly written “bible-speak” and seems to be some kind of attempt at satire on Craven’s part. Instead, she comes off as a very irritating and unlikable character. When the Ripper finally kills her off, it’s a relief, and yet you wish it had happened sooner.
MA: Then there’s Fang (Emily Meade), a goth girl who seems to run the entire school, bullying and controlling everyone around her like Michael Corleone’s granddaughter. When she first appears in the movie, she comes out of nowhere. She’s nowhere to be found in this story, and all of a sudden, bang! She’s a major player, and then, also out of nowhere, she turns out to be Bug’s sister! If this movie went on any longer, Darth Vader would have shown up to announce that he’s their father!
(DARTH VADER appears on bridge.)
DARTH VADER: Listen guys, I am NOT their father.
MA: That’s good to hear.
DARTH VADER: Join me on the dark side?
LS: Hey, buddy, we’re already there.
DARTH VADER: Really? Then, I guess I’ll be moving on.
MA: If you hurry, you’ll catch Yoda. He crossed this bridge a little while ago.
DARTH VADER: I shall crush the rebellion!
YODA(from other side of bridge): Idiot, you are, and your mama, crush I shall!
DARTH VADER: Why you little…(races towards end of bridge in pursuit.)
LS: Fang is another totally over-the-top character who just doesn’t seem real. There’s one scene where she punches Bug repeatedly, and it almost looks like a UFC brawl all of a sudden! I didn’t understand or beleive this character for a minute.
MA: And what’s with the names? Bug? Fang? Was the shooting title for this one ATTACK OF THE INSECT SNAKE PEOPLE?
The movie gets off to a bad start with an opening that plays like a tutorial on how not to make a good horror movie. It’s the old “you can’t kill me” routine we’ve seen so many times before it’s not funny. The Ripper is shot, stabbed, shot again, blown up, you name it. He should be deader than dead, but like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps on going.
LS: What is he, Rasputin?!
The prologue scene was absolutely awful. The more things they do to this guy, the more likely he is to suddenly jump up and appear to be unhurt! At the end of the scene, when an ambulance crashes and the supposedly wounded Ripper somehow gets away (his body is nowhere to be found), I wanted to get up and leave the movie theater, and the story really hadn’t even started yet!
MA: There’s also no central villain here, and this certainly hurts the movie. When we see the Ripper, he’s cool-looking. He’s one creepy dude. But we hardly ever see him, and that’s because the movie is too busy making us wonder who the killer is. I mean, it might not be the Ripper at all. It could just be one of the teenagers in a costume. The result is we hardly ever see the Ripper, and when we do, we’re not even sure if he’s the real deal, which is too bad, because a strong villain would have helped this movie.
LS: When the kids have their purging ritual early on, a big part of it is that one of the chosen kids (whose birthday it also is) has to “defeat” the effigy of the Ripper – in this case a giant puppet. With its long hair, spooky face, and leather duster, it looks kind of formidable, but it’s just a puppet. When we see the Ripper in action later, he looks exactly like the hulking puppet. How is this the case? Did the person who created the puppet know exactly what the killer would look like 16 years later? Is it just a costume? Did the puppet come to life? Or is it just a visual from the killer’s perspective (this is how he sees himself?) This is just filmmaking at its worst.
MA: Nor is there much of a hero. The main hero, a police officer, does next to nothing in this movie, and the teens just aren’t defined enough to make them heroic.
LS: I thought Bug was supposed to be the hero – the one we were supposed to sympathize with – although I didn’t find him very sympathetic.
(SPIDER-MAN swings past them.)
SPIDER-MAN: It makes no Spidey-sense for Bug to be the hero. The only bug hero allowed in the movies is yours truly!
LS: Bug-off, Wallcrawler! (throws a rock at him as he swings by)
SPIDER-MAN: Sheesh, just trying to provide some levity. You look an awful lot like one of my villains, by the way.
LS: As for Officer Paterson – the police detective you mentioned – he’s played by Frank Grillo, who played pretty much the same exact role in the recent ABC television series THE GATES. Where he was kind of interesting in the TV show, he’s completely wasted here. His character is not developed at all, and there’s really no point to him in the movie, except to be “the obsessed cop who won’t give up.” Grillo deserved better.
But so did the rest of the cast. I didn’t like one single character in this movie. They were all stereotypes from other teen horror films. Their dialogue and motivations weren’t believable. And the entire story is told in such a superficial, over-the-top way, that you don’t once find yourself being sucked into the story and believing any of it.
MA: The ending of this film, which I thought was horrible—as it’s a tidy neat little package all wrapped up with a pretty bow—tries to convince us that something heroic has happened, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.
LS You’re right, the ending was a complete cheat. I knew who the Ripper was going to be really early on, and I kept hoping I was wrong. But I wasn’t. Any chance for this movie to redeem itself at the end and surprise us was completely wasted.
MA: I did like the photography. I thought the movie looked very good. I loved the shots of the town (a fictional place called Riverton, Massachusetts), and it did look like it was shot in New England.
I liked the image of the railroad bridge in the fog and the scene early on, where one of the teens is attacked by the Ripper on this bridge, was my favorite scene in this movie by far. Sadly, it’s not a very long scene.
But that’s really all I liked. Nothing Craven did as a director in this one did much to scare me, and the writing, the story, I thought was way off. It just wasn’t honed in as much as it needed to be. Take the multiple souls inside the teens for example. There’s a lot that could be done with this. That’s a scary idea. Unfortunately, with the exception of Bug, we don’t really see this concept in action. Had the story concentrated on each teen and each soul inside that teen, then that would have been interesting.
LS: But that would have meant some actual character development.
MA: And, of course, the story couldn’t do this because one of the arguments it was making was the killer might still be alive, and all this soul stuff could be crap and untrue.
LS: MY SOUL TO TAKE was one of the few times where I left a movie theater actually in a foul mood. I felt like I’d been taken for a ride – a bad one at that – and that, on top of that, the driver stole my wallet. I hated the story (like you said, any potentially good ideas were squandered), the characters, the dialogue (which was often hilariously bad) and the directing. I will go so far as saying that, compared to MY SOUL TO TAKE, the TWILIGHT movies seem like art.
MA: Wow! You must have REALLY hated this movie! Worse than TWILIGHT? I dunno, I can’t really agree with you here. The thing with the TWILIGHT movies is I’ve seen worse movies, but very few movies have ever done as good a job boring me to death as the TWILIGHT films. They were dull to the point of insanity.
LS: I thought the trailer for this movie looked bad. I was wrong. The actual movie is ten times worse. This is Wes Craven at rock bottom, and I thought that had happened with CURSED, the awful werewolf movie he did with Kevin Williamson which DIDN’T HAVE ANY WEREWOLVES IN IT.
MY SOUL TO TAKE is downright cynical. It doesn’t treat any of its characters like real people, and it doesn’t presume that the audience has an ounce of intelligence. And we can’t blame Williamson this time, because Craven wrote the script for this one all by himself.
MA: I just didn’t buy MY SOUL TO TAKE. I give it 1 ½ knives. Unless you’re really bored with nothing to do, there’s no need to see this one. Oh yeah. I failed to mention it was in 3D. That should tell you how much of an impact the 3D had here.
LS: This movie was in 3D? Oh yeah. I remember paying an extra four bucks for glasses. However, not once did I feel I was watching a 3D movie. Even the silly old “something jumping out at you” trick wasn’t used here. The only thing you notice is once in a while there’s a bit more depth-perception. Even the 3D is a complete rip-off, because it’s obvious this was not meant to be a 3D movie. There’s a scene in the trailer where a hand lunges out at you – something you think would be an obvious 3D effect —and yet, in the actual movie, it wasn’t. Everything about this movie feels like a cheat.
I didn’t dislike MY SOUL TO TAKE. I despised it. And I’m not giving it any knives at all. In fact, the way I see it, Wes Craven owes me a whole set of knives for sitting through this garbage.
MA: All right then, we’re finished. Let’s get off this bridge before they decide to make a sequel.
LS: If they make a sequel, I swear I’m tossing someone off this bridge.
MA: Remind me to be absent for that review.
(MA & LS walk off bridge and disappear into the fog.)
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives MY SOUL TO TAKE - 1 and a half knives
L.L. Soares gives MY SOUL TO TAKE - NO KNIVES!