OCTOBER 8, 2010
At one point during My Soul To Take, I leaned over to the esteemed Simon Barrett and said “I just want to understand ONE line of dialogue in this movie”. It’s in English, and the surround mix is perfectly professional, but no one in this movie sounds like a human being. It’s sort of like The Room, where you get the impression that the writer has never actually conversed with another person before, except in this case we know perfectly well that he has, because the writer is Wes Craven himself.
Mr. Craven is, undoubtedly, smarter than anyone that was in the theater at the time (he carries a masters degree in philosophy and a bachelor’s degree in psychology), but he’s also pushing 70, which is perhaps not the ideal age to be writing for 16 year olds. Much of the first act has them involved in confusing “high school mafia” antics, where one of the girls declares it “Fang Time” and locks off the girl’s bathroom to discuss whether “3s and 8s” were properly administered. Seriously, I had no idea what the hell any of our protagonists were talking about for a good 60% of the movie. It reminded me of the poorly translated Hong Kong movies that they show at the New Bev every now and then, with replies sounding in no way like a natural response to what was just said (which, more often than not, didn’t make such sense to begin with). Or they just offer baffling advice like “If things get too hot, turn on the prayer conditioning.” Even Diablo Cody would be scratching her head at this stuff.
And when they’re not speaking some foreign language that simulates English, they’re spouting paragraphs of exposition, much of it completely worthless. A character that is about to die spends at least 90 seconds just describing the process of how he got there, as if it mattered to anyone. The villain and hero explain to each other how they were able to get everything accomplished in a small amount of time. “I put the knife in the sink while you were downstairs getting a glass of water!” One of the "Riverton Seven" (our main characters) explains the backstory of the Riverton Ripper to one of the other seven, as if he didn’t know the story yet. And so on. It’s the rare film that I wish just had a scene of someone looking up information at the library or on the internet, so it would keep the characters quiet for a few minutes.
And it’s a shame, because that’s probably the reason why everyone is currently hating on the movie. If you can look past it (just sort of let their dialogue be background noise; assume it’s just kids being kids and that the particulars don’t really matter), you will be rewarded with one of the more original concepts for a horror movie in quite some time. The press synopsis and such will probably tell you that the soul The Riverton Ripper has been transferred to one of 7 kids, and they are trying to figure out who as they begin getting picked off one by one. But it’s actually more complicated and interesting than that. Nor is it clearly explained; it takes some brainwork (and possibly a second viewing) for everything to become clear. I won’t give it away, but I’ll nudge in you in the right direction by asking you to consider two plot points: the manner in which Harris Yulin’s character dies (not a spoiler, it occurs in the first 5 minutes), and the defining characteristic of one of the Riverton Seven.
It also has its fair share of batshit “WTF” moments, such as when our hero, nicknamed “Bug”, and his best friend give a class report on the California Condor, complete with the friend dressed as a Condor and spraying fake puke all over the place. They’re also all prone to random violent outbursts, the highlight of which has to be when Bug’s older sister suddenly beats the ever loving shit out of him. Then they both smash some childhood possessions to smithereens. Even the end credits are a delight – we get a rather poorly animated condor flying around some artwork, followed by storyboards (in 3D!) for the film running on the sides, including boards for scenes that aren’t even in the movie. You all know me, I love this sort of out of nowhere nonsense. And the odd violence helps break up the rather puzzling lack of kill scenes – one of the 7 dies early on (the one in the trailer), another basically dies off-screen, and the other 3 die almost simultaneously. A couple other deaths occur off-screen as well, most likely to preserve the mystery.
However, the biggest surprise was probably the 3D conversion – it’s probably the best convert I’ve seen. It does make the film darker, and there are a few instances where characters appear to be further apart from each other than they should be, but otherwise it’s pretty solid. I noticed none of the strange artifacting and blurry “halos” that crippled Piranha’s presentation, and Craven’s rather laid-back camerawork is a good fit for the limitations of the process – there isn’t a lot of fast movement and complicated tracking shots are pretty rare as well. If you move your glasses up (off) and down (on) during certain shots, you can really see how much depth and separation has been added (as well as how much darker the glasses are making the image). I’m not saying you should definitely pay the extra dough for it if you have the choice, but if it’s your only option, it’s luckily not the end of the world. It’s a shame whoever did the conversion here didn’t do it for Piranha though – if this is what they can achieve for something not intended for 3D presentation, imagine what they could have done with something that WAS.
I also laud Craven’s choice (assuming it was his) to cast his film with new/unrecognizable actors (Frank Grillo as a cop is pretty much the only one you might be familiar with). I can’t say for certain that I’ve seen any of the kids before, which, apart from Bug, makes it much less obvious who will be around for the long run, who “couldn’t” be the killer, etc. The movie benefits from having a cast that will be on a level playing field for 99.9% of the audience, plus it’s just nice to see a studio horror film that’s not populated by Gossip Girl folk for a change. That said, I want to see Zena Grey more often (I later realized I HAVE - she was one of the cast who came along with Wes to the HMAD Shocker screening last year, which means I like her even more).
Apparently, 50 pages were re-shot, and the original ending was more straightforward. I’m not going to say that the film doesn’t seem like it was tinkered with (some of those giant exposition chunks are likely the result of removing scenes that SHOWED these things), but it’s too interesting and out there to be considered a total misfire. With a dialogue polish (OK, overhaul) and a restructured 3rd act that didn’t all take place in a not-very-interesting house, this could have been a triumphant return for Craven. Instead it’s one of his most curious efforts, one that demands a look but not necessarily any acclaim. As with the climax of Shocker, and some of the plot elements of New Nightmare, he’s got some really interesting and unique ideas, but they don’t always translate to film clearly. As I’ve been saying to friends – if Tommy Wiseau and Chris Nolan collaborated on a slasher movie, it might end up something like My Soul To Take. Love it or hate it, I think we can all agree – it’s certainly not as generic as many of us initially feared.
What say you?