Tuesday, October 12, 2010


“Scream” trilogy director Wes Craven must have been brushing up on his slasher movie skills for his forthcoming “Scream 4” when he decided to make his latest thriller “My Soul to Take.” This strictly sophomoric exercise in formulaic murder and mayhem in a high school setting with a capable cast of no-name teens qualifies as a rental when you acquire a free movie coupon. Surprisingly, writer & director Wes Craven has penned and helmed a predictable as well as incoherent serial killer thriller that lacks everything that made the “Scream” movies so memorable. Worse, “My Soul to Take” (** out of ****) is another one of those 3-D movies that wasn’t originally lensed in 3-D. Instead, the studio converted it to 3-D like “Clash of the Titans.” In other words, the 3-D effects--even in a digital presentation—don’t have in-your-face, visually dynamic quality of genuine 3-D effects. Meaning, nothing comes flying out of the screen at you, like either ‘My Bloody Valentine” or “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” “My Soul to Take” generates minimal atmosphere, but this 107 minute, R-rated nonsense never musters any compelling characters, spine-tingling suspense, or even a big last-minute surprise. If you’re the kind of person who spots the killer long before the movie outs the killer, you’ll quickly tire of this unexceptional epic.

“My Soul to Take” opens with an absorbing action scene. A happily married husband and father, Abel (Raúl Esparza of “Find Me Guilty”), is putting the finishing touches on a wooden rocking horse in his downstairs workshop when his pregnant wife Sarah (newcomer Alexandra Wilson) asks him to join her upstairs. A television newscast about a savage serial killer in Riverton, Massachusetts, appropriately nicknamed the “Riverton Ripper,” is making Abel’s wife feel paranoid. As he is leaving his workshop, Abel slips on a tool, smashes his head on a work bench, and hits the floor. Upstairs, Sarah learns from the newscast that the authorities cannot identify the killer, even though he has been recorded on a high definition surveillance camera. Nevertheless, they have been able to magnify the murder weapon sufficiently to make out the word ‘vengeance’ on the blade. Abel spots the exact same knife with ‘vengeance’ on the blade under his work bench. Suddenly, his multiple personalities—triggered by the fall—begin to argue with him.

Abel’s homicidal personality warns him that he will slaughter his entire family if he calls his doctor. Abel phones his physician, Dr. Blake (Harris Yulin of “Scarface”), to warn him about his episode. Before the police arrive, Abel kills Sarah and is poised to stab his daughter Leah. Riverton detective Paterson (Frank Grillo of “Pride and Glory”) bursts in and shoots Abel twice. Like any standard-issue serial killer, Abel doesn’t just lie down and die. He distracts Paterson, disarms him, and shoots the detective twice in the chest. Luckily, Paterson has on a bullet-proof vest. In the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, Abel slips out of his restraints and slashes away at the ambulance nurse. All these sudden hysterics prompts the ambulance driver to swerve and the vehicle flips over and lands on a river bank. The ambulance explodes into flames as Paterson and the nurse are thrown free. Abel manages to escape into the night. The authorities never find a trace of his body.

The action fast-forwards to sixteen years later. A crowd of teenagers are holding a late night ceremony near the scorched remains of the ambulance. The teens are observing what they call “Ripper Night.” As it turns out, during the eventful night when the Abel embarked on a killing rampage, seven children were prematurely born at the hospital. Word has it that either Abel died that night or his murderous soul migrated into one of the seven prematurely born babies. Our shy, clueless protagonist ‘Bug’ (Max Thieriot of “The Astronaut Farmer”) doesn’t know anything about his desperado dad. Not only does Bug suffer from chronic migraines, but he also displays signs of schizophrenia. Bug’s vindictive sister Leah (Emily Meade of “Burning Palms”) has spread a vicious rumor that Bug has been institutionalized for mental instability. Miraculously, Bug survived the slaughter. Bug’s mischievous buddy, Alex (John Magaro of “The Box”); high school coed Brittany (television actress Paulina Olszynski); a hormone-addled jock Brandon O’Neal (Nick Lashaway of “The Last Song”); religious zealot Penelope Bright (Zena Grey of “The Shaggy Dog”); a blind African-American, Jerome (Denzel Whitaker of “The Great Debaters”); and an Asian-American, Jay (Jeremy Chu of “Mr. Deeds), constitute the other six of the ‘Riverton Seven.’

The Ripper kills Jay first. Jay is crossing a bridge on his way home when a masked killer with dreadlocks reminiscent of the alien from the “Predator” movies attacks him. A day later the authorities find Jay’s body. Not long afterward, the Ripper slashes Zena’s throat in the generator room adjacent to the school swimming pool. Brandon is chasing Brittany through the woods because he wants a blow-job from her when they stumble onto Zena’s corpse. The Ripper surprises them and stabs them to death. Craven incriminates Bug at every turn with a number of clues that make him look like the prime suspect. Bug has a way of going into different personalities and speaking like other people. Primarily, during a school prank in the girl's restroom, Bug’s cell phone winds up in Brittany's purse. Later, the police find Brittany when Bug’s mother calls his cell phone and the ringing leads them to Brittany's body.

Nothing about “My Soul to Take” is either scary or suspenseful. Mind you, the performances are pretty good, but Craven doesn’t distinguish himself with either is “Scream” like wit or staging. “My Soul to Take” is every bit as forgettable as Craven’s second-rate werewolf movie “Cursed” and never generates a third of the tension of “Red Eye.” Ultimately, the slasher here referred to as the “Riverton Ripper” isn’t very terrifying in comparison with either hockey mask clad Jason of the “Friday the 13th” franchise or Michael Myers of the “Halloween.” The slasher attacks are timed when you least expect them, but Craven doesn’t give his mass murderer anything in the way of traits or an attitude to make him intimidating. Worse, anybody who ever saw the classic Marx Brothers’ comedy “Duck Soup” will spot a rip-off of the mirror scene between Groucho and Harpo. Ultimately, “My Soul to Take” takes your money and your time with nothing to show for either.