Silver Screen: My Soul to Take 3D 1/2*

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Silver Screen: My Soul to Take 3D 1/2*
Bryan Miller

Legendary horrormeister Wes Craven takes a hard fall in My Soul to Take, his first auteur effort since 1994's A New Nightmare.

Craven is a hard-to-pin-down presence in the horror biz. Like his contemporary John Carpenter, he's uneven but incredibly influential. Unlike the socially conscious Carpenter, however, much of Craven's influence is dubious. He's one of the pioneers of torture porn (Last House of the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) and also partly responsible for the glut of horror movies that nearly choked the genre to death in the 1980s.

He's also pretty awesome. The original Nightmare on Elm Street isn't a particularly smart movie, but it's damn scary. Craven's involvement with the sequels to that seemingly endless series is exclusively relegated to the good ones: He wrote and directed the original, wrote the third installment (The Dream Warriors), and both wrote and directed New Nightmare, the ahead-of-its-time meta followup in which the actors from the original get together to make a sequel, only to have Freddy start bumping off members of the cast and crew. Craven also directed the slick, smarmy Scream (but, unfortunately, also its awful sequels), and most recently he helmed the Hitchcockian suspense thriller Red Eye.

With such an impressive ré sumé , it's difficult to imagine how he could be so deeply involved with a movie as unpardonably bad as My Soul to Take. Sure, Craven's filmography comes complete with some mixed blessings (People Under the Stairs, Serpent and the Rainbow) and some outright duds (Shocker, Cursed, Scream III), but nothing in his past indicates the depths to which he sinks in this most recent celluloid tragedy.

The movie begins breathlessly in what seems like the middle of the story: Police are on the verge of identifying an Ü ber-generic serial killer known as the Ripper (way to be inventive!), even as the killer himself, a family man with a cliché d horror-movie version of schizophrenia, discovers that he's been hacking up people during blackouts. He freaks out and stabs his pregnant wife, but police intervene before he can kill his daughter. On that very same night, seven children are born in their small town.

Sixteen years later, the kids have grown up with the legend of the Ripper, and every year they reenact the madman stalking the townspeople; it's kind of like a May Day parade, but with a giant papier-mâ ché serial killer. But on the day of their sixteenth birthday, the teens start turning up dead, leading some of them to make the astounding leap of logic that the soul of the killer may have been passed into one of their own when he died. It all has something to do with a California Condor, a giant bird of prey whose biology, habits, and attendant legends seem to be common knowledge among everyone in town. Oh, and one of the seven sixteen-year-olds is obviously the son of the slain killer, taken from his mother before she fully expired.

If that sounds like a lot to pack into the first half hour of a slasher movie, that's because it is.

But the real kicker is that My Soul to Take manages to be both wildly overcomplicated and exceedingly bland. All this convoluted backstory serves no greater purpose than to operate as an excuse to show a bunch of high-school kids get carved up, and the death scenes are staggeringly dull and unimaginative. If we're not here for cool kills or interesting plot, why are we here?

Perhaps to see the most skewed possible version of high-school life? In Craven's imagining of high school, a foxy nineteen-year-old named Fang (who happens to be the Ripper's surviving daughter) almost literally runs the school; the teachers fear her, and the other students are terrified of her, ceding large portions of the school to her and her clique as she plots out who will succeed, who will date who, and how much punishment should be doled out to various plebes by her hit squad. It's such a strangely hyperbolic version of high-school infighting that at times it seems as though the script was written not even by aliens whose sum total knowledge of teenaged human life comes from John Hughes movies, but by the lesser talented aliens who watched that first alien-scripted human high-school movie and made their own lousy knockoff.

The final insult is that the whole ungodly mess has been retrofitted with the accursed new 3D. Clearly the film wasn't conceived that way, so the new technology only serves to add a single unnecessary layer of depth in the background to otherwise bland scenes-- oh, and to jack up ticket prices by three or four bucks. It's a cynical money grab piled atop of a failed attempt to cash in on a tried genre. What soul exactly is there to take, anyway?