Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Max Thieriot, Emily Meade, Raul Esparza, Denzel Whitaker, John Magaro
Directed by Wes Craven
There are telltale items put into a commercial that make die-hard horror fans shy away from a newly released movie. One of these is teens. It generally means there will be indiscriminate boob flashing and boys taking off their shirts (AKA male boob flashing) and dumb moments designed specifically to get victims under the blade. The next offending item is 3D, often used to drive up a ticket price and nothing more. With those two weapons of mass distraction up their sleeve, Rogue set out to make a trailer with a chain of typical teen horror movie images tailor made to make us groan, all at once, as a collective spirit of horror vengeance. “WHYYYY??!” Then I went to see the damn thing and was so happy with what was dancing before me, I had a perma-grin the whole time. WHAT A TWIST!!
My Soul to Take centers around a town that looks just like yours and mine, filled with seemingly normal people. Little did anyone realize they had a serial killer living among them. When the fiend reveals himself, he is quickly apprehended and, in a last blast of spectacular violence, takes out a handful of people as he goes down himself. Flash-forward 16 years, and seven children born on the very day of said psycho’s death do their best to live normal lives in a high school ruled with an iron, well-manicured fist by an ultra-bitch called FANG (Meade), but this year the man who was dubbed the Riverton Reaper has returned and is cutting a swath through the kids … one by one.
I haven’t had this much fun with a cast for quite some time. Thieriot plays Bug with a pitch perfect mixture of fifty percent insane glee and fifty percent sheepish, closeted, awkward teen. To offset Bug’s personality, we have his best friend, Alex (Magaro), who is sort of like an updated version of a circa The Breakfast Club Judd Nelson. Together the two chew up the screen and make the time fly by. Then there’s Fang, who not only has an awesome name for a girl who terrorizes a high school with her small army of jock and cheerleader followers, but plays the character to the furthest extents of teen evil. She is all bark and all bite. The type of girl who’ll punch you in the throat when you aren’t looking. Honorable mention goes to Zena Grey’s holy roller character Penelope, who spits out the most amazingly funny and yet believable religious streams of thought so unexpectedly that she’ll leave you rolling. I also have to give a nod to Nick Lashaway, who plays the PERFECT dumb jock enforcer whose every glance sent me into hysterics.
Visually, My Soul to Take is beautiful. Working with the stereotypical trappings of a teen movie can be difficult. There’s the high school, the forest that seems to be all around the town, and the house of the main character. Shots of school hallways play up themes of loneliness among hundreds of people with long expanses of lockers interrupted by hidden openings to classrooms, from which a body could suddenly pop out. The forest is turned into a murky pit of no return by night and an endless maze where one could easily lose his way by day. You get the feeling that a corpse could be slumped around any tree, and those walking the same trail they do every day would be oblivious to it. Bug’s home has a way of mirroring the certain, uneasy nature of his relationship with his mother with plenty of dark spaces, even when well lit. They manage to hide a character there until later in the film without even doing so deliberately!
The one astounding thing about this flick is that, while you are obviously presented with a sort of mystery in who might be the killer or is it a supernatural entity, the film doesn’t force you to make up your mind. You are given a shred of evidence in the movie’s opening, along with a series of crazy fake-outs with our main baddie, suggesting he MIGHT be unstoppable. But that’s a big might.
For the duration of the film we have a spotlight on Bug who, more often than not, seems a little off his rocker. Obviously he is the killer, right? No self-respecting horror buff would go right for the obvious killer! You’ll be left guessing the whole movie, but it’s not like anyone will be hammering red herrings over your head to the point of distraction. The viewer is left in peace to enjoy the ride, and it is one hell of one. I wasn’t entirely happy with the film’s finale, but that opinion is more based on my dream they might take the finale to the extreme SHOCKER style! Alas, they do not, and I’ll shut my mouth before I give anything away.
I’d like to begin my closing rant by saying that this film has no right to be awesome. The plot is not anything groundbreaking and contains some recycled Craven themes here and there. The supernatural-ish bad guy isn’t very scary, the kills are of the minimalist variety, and shockingly enough there are no boobs. Where My Soul to Take succeeds is within its writing and its execution. The teens, who actually look like honest to God teens, speak as teens speak … without hurting your head of course. The witty back and forth banter carries you through the flick with the crackerjack timing of an 80’s coming-of-age classic that happens to have lots of cursing. This is the part where I’d normally say the wacky hijinks the teens get into then turn into a bloody mess, but most of that blood, while spilled in large pools, is spilled off camera. So often so that I thought the movie was PG-13, but nope – it’s a solid R! Must be from all the cursing because, as mentioned before, not a nipple is peeked or even suggested at! And still, this movie succeeds. Vintage Craven in top form. I’m actually still mulling over the magical quality that makes this so. One day I may just figure it out.
4 out of 5