Wes Craven’s disappointing My Soul To Take: it’s your time to waste

by Mark Burger

My Soul to Take, the latest film from horror master Wes Craven, marks the filmmaker’s first feature in five years.

It’s a horror film, clearly. With (very) few exceptions, Craven has been typecast in the genre since his 1972 debut The Last House on the Left, and he’s got a fair share of classics or semi-classics to his credit, among them the original The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and, of course, the wildly successful Scream trilogy.

There have, however, been a few misfires along the way, including the unwatchable Hills Have Eyes II (1985), Deadly Friend (1986), the Eddie Murphy misfire Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), The People Under the Stairs (1991) — although that one does have its admirers — and the werewolf fiasco Cursed (2004), which he essentially disowned.

Alas, My Soul to Take falls into the latter category. It’s no classic, not worth the wait, and not worth the trouble. Horror fans may guarantee some early box-office returns this Halloween season — Wes Craven is undoubtedly a brand name this time of year — but satisfaction is not guaranteed. Coming from Craven, who also wrote the screenplay, it’s a letdown.

Once upon a time, the little town of Riverton was rocked by a series of brutal murders committed by a fiend imaginatively nicknamed the “Riverton Ripper.” Seven children were born the night he was finally killed… although (uh-oh!) the body was never found. Sixteen years later, these kids — imaginatively nicknamed the “Riverton Seven” — are being gruesomely slain one by one.

Whether the cause of this renewed nastiness is psychotic or supernatural is never made clear. Craven seems to want it both ways yet never finds a foundation for either. Some early scenes indicate that perhaps he’s kidding, but these don’t pan out. There was a similar indecisiveness in Craven’s Shocker (1989) before that film went in a comedic direction. (Shocker was not a great movie, but it possessed a wacky energy that this film sorely lacks.)

The story unfolds in the fashion of a who dunit, with a succession of red herrings and dropped clues, some valid and others not so much). The principal character is “Bug” (Max Thieriot), whose lineage and previous mental instability become pivotal to the story, as his friends and acquaintances begin dying rapidly around him.

In addition to the kids, who include Zena Grey, Denzel Whitaker and Raul Esparza, there’s Frank Grillo as the obligatory (and soon overworked) local cop and the always-welcome Harris Yulin turns up briefly as a psychiatrist. The performances aren’t particularly good, but then, neither is Craven’s dialogue.

My Soul to Take sputters to life on occasion — there are some nice shots and excellent end credits (for those still hanging around) — but whatever positive expectations the film engenders among its audience is entirely out of goodwill toward Craven’s earlier, better films.