Film Review: My Soul to Take

A single-serving package of adrenaline that wears off quickly.

Put together seven high-schoolers, a serial killer legend and a scary costume, and you have My Soul to Take. Directing from his own script, Wes Craven crafts a minimalist tale that’s high on suspense but low on gore and originality.

Anyone familiar with horror films won’t be surprised by the setup. In the prelude, the schizophrenic Riverside Ripper does away with his pregnant wife, police officers and paramedics before disappearing into the river, leaving only a bloody gurney behind. Seven children, including his son, are born that day, linking them to the evil soul of the dead (…or is he?) madman. Sixteen years later, on the birthday of the seven high-schoolers, someone starts going after them.

The cast of no-names with one-note characterizations (the jock, the religious one, the weird one) ensures the audience feels no real attachment to the victims. Good thing, because with seven people to off, the film wastes no time. But Saw this is not: Elaborate killings are eschewed in favor of the good old-fashioned knife to the gut. Craven focuses on the lead-up, creating tension even when working within a generic, predictable situation. In one case, a tight close-up builds suspense, preventing us from trying to glimpse the killer behind the trees. In another, Craven deftly subverts the expectations of the genre, drawing a heroine into a maintenance closet only to spring the attack once she is back from her investigation. The tempo is ever-changing, and like a true horror master, Craven builds the suspense in steps, giving the audience transient moments of relief before turning it up another notch.

What’s missing from the movie, however, is an elaborate set-piece, and the kind of scare or creative slaying that instills a persistent fear. The dark, bulky costume worn by the killer shows no imagination. Craven seems at home with this back-to-basics model, however. His craftsmanship and control over suspense show his years of experience, but the whole movie has a throwback feel to it. Over the past decade, Japanese-inspired horror (The Ring) and verité footage (Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity) have been all the rage. A town’s knife-toting boogeyman seems downright quaint.

For die-hard horror veterans, the dose of adrenaline may be too small to produce the desirable effect. Although the new generation of horror fans may not mind the serial killer retread, the film’s paltry opening weekend shows they didn’t seem to care. What’s more, audiences paid a premium for 3D, but the impact is negligible and it certainly isn’t exploited enough to deliver extra scares. Craven seems to be going through the motions with My Soul to Take. However graceful the results, audiences need him to open a new playbook.