My Soul to Take (2012)
Dir. Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven
Starring a bunch of kids, you know how it is these days. Harris Yulin has a cameo.
Wes Craven’s first film since RED EYE in 2005 is in pretty much every way which counts a stultifying, stagnating mess. It’s laughable, ludicrous, and somehow manages to be both insultingly simplistic and inexplicably convoluted at the same time. Its slasher tropes are dated, its twists predictable, and it’s teenagers are being written by a 70-year-old man.
Other than that, though, it’s a pretty fun time. It’s a breezy, unabashedly silly teen slasher which is (I think?) at least partly intentionally comedic and features such a generous surplus of funny twists, odd incidents, and strange choices that it’s sort of charming. Particularly since Craven, even doing whatever it is he’s doing here --coasting? trying too hard? losing his touch? smoking peyote and receiving a script from a coyote trickster god?-- can still make a fine-looking movie with plenty of fun touches.
In some ways, it actually recalls “Twin Peaks” in it’s ability to be simultaneously intentionally funny, unintentionally funny, tense, slack, silly, serious, and stylized. I genuinely do not know if this is intentional or not, nor can I discern any obvious intention here at all. The whole enterprise has a baffling sense of naive ignorance over how strange it is. Surely Craven --who once upon a time was a film professor-- had to laugh at the first five minutes, which probably go through a twist PER MINUTE every single minute before the title even appears. Five minutes, five twists, probably more than five crashing moments where someone jerks awake from a dream, only to find that it wasn’t a dream after all!! Again, all before the main story even begins.
|Part of the story concerns this puppet version of the original killer, which for reasons known only to Wes Craven bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual killer, who we clearly see at the beginning and whose identity is known.|
But when we get to the main story, things don’t start to make much more sense. It seems that 16 years ago, a killer who had multiple personalities got caught by the cops, but escaped custody and it seemed like he was dead but they never found the body. Meanwhile, seven babies were born at the exact same moment that he may or may not have died, and a black lady speculates that maybe the Killer’s personalities were actually separate souls, that maybe could have migrated out of his body into one or more of the babies born at that time. Black people in movies are usually right about these things, so people seem to accept this theory and just roll with it.
And so, 16 years later, we are introduced to the seven, who by total coincidence happen to represent the exact social strata of the high school ecosystem, what with the jock, the queen bee, the religious girl, the blond girl, the nerd, the outsider Judd Nelson type, the blind black guy (?), the disposable asian guy (spoiler). Our hero, “Bug,” (his family was really into William Friedkin) apparently just came back to school after a long stint in the nuthouse, but he doesn’t remember what happened and no one discusses it and then it doesn’t turn out to be important anyway, so huh. In fact, this movie is big on labored exposition which never pays off in any way, and by equal measure extremely awkward at actually filling us in on any relevant information. For example, there’s a moment where two character suddenly seem to synch up and play the mirror game with each other in a kind of trance, but then they snap out of it and it’s never mentioned again. On the other hand, about halfway through there’s a big dramatic reveal (complete with “dramatic reveal” musical cue) that two characters are actually related to each other. But here’s the thing: the characters already know this (in fact, they live in the same house, we just hadn’t seen them at home before) and there’s no payoff whatsoever to keeping this a secret from the audience and then springing it on us halfway through. Wha?
|It's a major plot point that the word "vengeance" is written on this knife, but it's unclear who is getting vengeance or what they're avenging. I'm gonna assume the Sith, I guess?|
OK, I can’t avoid this topic and more. This movie is also big on talk about condors. Everyone is constantly talking about condors. There’s a 2 AM radio show on the subject (?) that the hero listens to, then subsequently he gives an entire classroom presentation about condors (we hear the whole thing) for which he builds an elaborate larger-than-life condor suit which his friend uses to flap around the room and subsequently to both vomit and shit on a high school bully (they explain, this is the condor’s primary defense. Yes, go back and read that previous sentence again. This is a movie where a guy in a condor suit shits and vomits onto another kid in the middle of class*) then for some reason they bury the condor suit in the woods (?), the principal talks about how abnormal and concerning it is to be interested in condors, other people make a bunch of inexplicable labored condor metaphors, and then over the credits we see an animated condor (who sometimes favors a dapper mauve cardigan vest. Yes, again, you read that correctly) flapping around and looking like he belongs here, kicking it to a deeply shitty alt-rock power ballad about being a man (?). What’s with all the condors? It’s even odder, because occasionally someone will look furtively into the murky grey heavens and see a large bird there and you’ll think, “a-ha, this condor thing is about to pay off.” But then it doesn’t, because this is arbitrarily set in Connecticut, and there are no condors.
Wikipedia claims that Craven himself is a birder, and a member of the California Audubon society. I guess that explains it? The dude just really likes condors and wrote a part in his movie for them like Kevin Smith would for someone he knew back in the day.
|Condorman. Nobody seems impressed at all that the kid made this entire elaborate bird suite with its own god damn internal hydraulic system by himself.|
Anyway, enough about the condors. This is a slasher movie, but it’s weirdly structured so that almost the entire first half plays like a MEAN GIRLS sequel full of high school hijinks and expository dialogue which never pays off. One guy dies very, very early on, then nothing happens for a long time, then everyone who’s going to die gets killed in a short little 10 minute window. And then, nothing again for a long time until the very end when the killer comes back and we finally figure out who it is because the film briefly teases that it’s basically every one of the remaining characters until there just isn’t anyone left but the real killer. It runs out of possible twists so the last guy is guilty, sort of a musical chairs approach to explanation. And I guess it did have something to do with souls, but damned if I can tell you what, or what this had to do with Condors, babies born at the same time 16 years ago, a high school science class, a giant puppet version of the killer, and so forth. Or how a blind kid managed to find a rope and climb into a second-story window, or for that matter what purpose it serves to make this character blind to begin with.
Part of me feels bad for correctly mocking the ridiculous ineptness of a movie from one of the true giants of horror cinema. I mean, we all kinda hoped this would be a great one. Even as recently as RED EYE, Craven was demonstrating that he still has the ability to make a tense, well-constructed thriller, but there’s no getting around it, MY SOUL TO TAKE is a complete mess. I couldn’t possibly explain how it ended up this way. Did they rewrite the script until nothing made sense anymore? Could they just not shoot the script they wanted, for whatever reason? Was this edited down to complete incoherence from a 269 minute epic masterpiece a la ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA?** I have no idea. If you are looking for the great horror film from Craven which we all still desperately believe he has in him and the world sorely needs, this is not the one for you. But, if you’re looking to have a hell of a lot of fun with something completely misguided and bizarre, which is also handsomely crafted by a cinematic master who has possibly gone completely insane… well, you’ve got an unequivocal classic here. How’s that for a twist you never saw coming?
*It gets even better, because the principal meets with Bug’s mom about the incident, and to demonstrate how bourgeois and square he is he tells mom that he’s sending Bug to a psychologist because his interest in carrion birds is disturbing and abnormal. But he doesn’t seem upset about the vomiting and shitting part! It’s the choice of this specific animal for a class report that concerns him!
**There’s actually some evidence that this might be the case: the animated credit roll also includes a bunch of storyboards, many for scenes which clearly did not make the final cut. In fact, even the animated title menu contains shows footage of a scene which does not actually appear in the movie!