My Soul to Take is a teen slasher given to us by director Wes Craven who, prior to filming this, had taken a lengthy break from making films. It comes to us to remind us that maybe Craven shouldn’t have come back so soon (if you can call five years “soon”), as it’s not good — not good at all. It’s as generic as you come, which is funny when you remember that this is the man who brought us the Scream films, which were designed to make fun of this kind of film.
The basic conceit this time around is that there’s a schizophrenic man named Abel (Raúl Esparza), who kills his wife, is shot by a police officer, and while being transported to the hospital, escapes from the ambulance he was held in. Yes, he was tied down, but he broke out regardless, because medical personnel apparently aren’t terrible good at restraining a serial killer. Anyway, after his escape, it’s assumed that he died as his wounds were too deep to realistically live through without sufficient treatment.
We then fast-forward 16 years to the exact date when Abel allegedly died. It’s explained to us that there are seven teenagers in this town who all share a birthday with the schizophrenic’s death, and because it’s really fun to mock a dead serial killer, they’ve dubbed him “The Ripper” and beat on a puppet every year at midnight. Essentially, they’re asking for trouble. There are seven of them because the film would get boring if The Ripper just had to chase one or two of them for its duration.
Anyway, you’ll be unsurprised to find out that the Ripper still exists, and after the first death, we’re just waiting for all of the teens to meet their end. The serial killer’s weapon of choice is a knife with the word “vengeance” written on it, not that this actually has an impact on anything we see. Our lead is an awkward kid nicknamed Bug (Max Thieriot), but don’t worry, as I’m not going to go through all of the teens. Most of them die really early on anyway, and are included solely so that they can be killed.
There are two other characters that bear mentioning, however. The first is Bug’s best friend, Alex (John Magaro), as the pair sticks together through thick and thin. The next is a girl named Fang (Emily Meade), who essentially runs the high school, or something like that. She isn’t one of the seven chosen ones, though. She does have more purpose than to run the cliques at the school, but I won’t reveal that right now, as it’s not particularly important.
I will wonder if the film was trying to hide her true identity from us, or if it was just not mentioned beforehand. See, when we find out her true purpose, we’re surprised, but it’s not like it’s a big twist or anything; it just sort of happens, and we acknowledge it, but it doesn’t alter our viewpoint on anything we’ve previously seen. I’m unsure of how to view this. On one hand, it’s kind of a neat addition even if it doesn’t matter much, but on the other, it’s kind of lazy filmmaking that it’s initially omitted and then sprung upon us without making that impact that’s needed for a true twist.
Regardless, basically what you have with My Soul to Take is a teen slasher flick without a hint of originality in its veins. What can save these types of films? Creative kills is pretty much all that we want to see, and if this film had them, I might be more forgiving. Unfortunately, the killer was given a signature weapon, and not an interesting one at that. It’s a knife, plain and simple, and almost all of the deaths in this film are via the knife. It gets boring to watch all of these people die.
There’s one thing that My Soul to Take actually does well, and it’s make sure that the characters are all easy to tell apart. While they’re all archetypes that you’ll instantly recognize, the casting made sure that no two look alike, and those that do are given vastly different personality types. When someone died, I always knew who the deceased was, which is something that gets overlooked far too often in slasher films. This is more of a thumbs up to the casting department than anyone actively working during filming, but it’s the best praise I can give this film.
The actors aren’t terrible, and the characters aren’t so poorly written that I want to see them die, which is always a plus. However, when you go into a film like this, there’s a silent agreement made with the film. It will either scare you or give you some enjoyable kills. When it fails at both, you can’t call it a success. That’s what happens here. It’s competent in the areas it doesn’t need to be, and absolutely falls apart when looked at as a slasher film.
My Soul to Take isn’t a good horror film, nor is it an enjoyable slasher. It has an uninteresting villain, a plot that we’ve seen dozens of times before, archetypal characters, no scares and absolutely nothing fun. It also has a solid cast and I didn’t hate many of the characters — I actually hoped for some of them to make it to the end of this movie. It’s not at all worth the two hours that it takes to tell its story (seriously, it deserved not a minute longer than 90 minutes), but it’s not a complete bust either. It just isn’t a good horror film, and definitely not a return to form for Wes Craven. This is the film he loved to poke fun at years earlier.