MY SOUL TO TAKE is destined to be relegated to Wes Cravens lesser works. It has several nice twists and a deft way of misdirection that is marvelous to experience, even when one is perfectly aware of the manipulation. It may not have the humor of ELM STREET, or the rich panoply of that franchises special effects, but when it comes to plumbing the true roots of terror, its dead on target. If only the overreaching tone wasnt equally as dead.
Craven returns to his comfort zone, which is to say a group of attractive teenagers confronting an evil from the past. In this case, its the Riverton Ripper, the local serial killer who died on the night that seven babies were born, to the minute. The quaint and quiet little town of Riverton would like to forget, but The Riverton Seven, as those babies have been dubbed, have taken to marking Ripper Day with their own special ritual. That would be meeting up at midnight on their birthday and ritually slaying the Ripper at the site of his putative demise. Of course, the body was never found. This year, as the Seven turn 16, the festivities are interrupted by a police raid and Bug (Max Theriot), the sensitive one who has yet to carry out the ritual, is prevented from doing so. Whether or not the carnage of the next 24 hours is a result of that is left to the audience to decide. As is whether or not Bug is crazy. Whether his best friend, Alex (John Magaro) is on to something when he advises Bug that being a man is knowing how to fake the state of maturity. Whether Penelope (Zena Grey) truly has had a sign from God. Whether Brandon the jock (Nick Lashaway) will beat the crap out of Bug and/or Alex for their prank involving a fake condor. Whether Britney (Paulina Olszynksi) will follow the orders of the schools alpha gal, the terrifyingly intense Fang (Emily Meade) and connubial with Brandon. Whether the blind kid, Jerome (Denzel Whitaker) will surprise everyone with more than his preternatural sense of hearing.
That carnage begins with a flashback to the hyper-violence of the Rippers crimes, and follows through with the countdown to the reveal. Though blood flows freely, there is a daintiness to its on-screen presence, and a sweetness to the way that Bug dislikes using profanity almost as much as the script itself does. The effects, aside from the gore, are strictly the outer manifestation of Bugs troubled psyche rendered effectively both creepy and dreamy in mirrors that reflect what is not in front of them. Or is it his psychic intuition? Or is it something more sinister? Where the film works best is in the way it absolutely clears a suspect of the murders, and yet still plants just enough doubt to prevent the viewing from eliminating him or her entirely.
The psychological subtext is not as strong as it should be, but balances with the smartly done metaphor of Bugs favorite bird, the condor that eats death for breakfast as it recycles souls. Also on the plus side is the psycho murderer in the house trope that is done with a welcome nimbleness that breathes new life into that standard scenario. That Theriot and Magaro both give performances that balance expertly between the teen brashness made inevitable by the hormonal rush of their age group, and the teen angst of ratcheted up to the stratosphere high school hell is a boon to the efforts. On the minus side, a build-up to that final reveal and the hide-and-seek with a psycho that is a muffled echo of Craven at his best.
As for the true roots of terror ci-mentioned, that would not be the fiction of a killer preying without mercy on adolescents. No, that would be the very real facts of high-school culture. The jocks preying on the weak; the beautiful girls preying on those who fall under their spell; the school authorities who confuse friendly pranks with semi-felonious bullying. Folded neatly into a tale that smartly eschews slasher porn and uses just enough bloodletting to get the message across, MY SOUL TO TAKE tidily makes its case that while evil sprits can wreak all sorts of havoc on the innocent, the high school experience can suck the very soul out you. The film isnt lacking in good intentions, but has such a dull follow-through that try as it might, it is as much a soul-sucking experience as what the characters themselves are experiencing.