It's not every day that one has to witness the decline of a legend, but this weekend, with the release of "My Soul to Take," we are all witness to the decline of iconic director Wes Craven. A sloppy, mess of a film, "My Soul to Take" finds Craven at his absolute worst. Unbearable teenage dialogue, throw away characters, and over-baked killers -- it's the perfect storm of Craven's previous bad habits in one disastrous film. Though this train wreck has been telegraphed since at least the second "Scream" film, that doesn't make it any less disappointing or dispiriting.
Taking the writing credit here as well as the directing nod, Craven's failure with "My Soul to Take" is the true double whammy. It's clear too that the film's problems began at inception, while Craven's name likely carried this mess through development when someone else should and could have intervened. The core story here is almost too convoluted to relay. "Soul's" main character Bug was born, along with seven other kids, the same night that the Riverton Ripper -- a local serial killer -- was finally captured or killed by the police. The question of whether the Ripper survived that night becomes critical when 16 years later, each of the seven teens that share a birthday begin to die grisly deaths in the style of the The Ripper.
In many ways, "My Soul to Take" feels like a an attempt to recreate the slasher magic that captivated audiences in the original "Scream." What's silly about this is that while "Scream" was a brilliantly executed slasher whodunit, Craven himself also used that film to deconstruct the slasher. He toyed with the genre and teased fans with their own expectations. "My Soul to Take" essentially just rehashes all those expectations, and not in any sort of playful way. Did Craven forget his earlier effort? Has he just gone bone dry of ideas? When the Riverton Seven begin to die, amid the same media hysteria environment that Craven develops in the "Scream" films, all the old slasher concepts are trotted back out without a single batted eye.
Adding insult to this injury is the fact that most of "My Soul to Take" is so poorly executed. Pointless plot threads are developed and never sewn up. Personality details are either tossed out for no reason or appear out of nowhere only to become critical plot points. At one point, a blind character -- yes, blind -- is suggested as the killer. Guess what, he's not. In fact, there's never much mystery about who the killer could be. At no point is there more than a handful of potential suspects, and each seems just as ludicrous as the next. By the end, our intrigue has not been piqued, so much as our annoyance earned -- none of these killers will make any sense, and whoever is chosen is sure to be a logical stretch. Sure there's a red herring or two, but they at no point feel genuine. Instead, it's clear that the audience is being jerked around, and not in a fun or interesting way.
Lurking underneath this entire disaster are a handful of nuggets -- mere suggestions really -- of what might have been a tolerable film. Themes like that of the Native American legend about the California condor, while not the most creative additions to the horror canon, are at least attempts at something new and compelling. With some rewrites, better casting and a different director entirely, "My Soul to Take" could potentially have been a middling contribution to the horror scene, instead of the embarrassing disaster that it represents.
With "My Soul to Take," Wes Craven has now directed exactly three films in the last ten years. Instead, he's spent his last decade producing, with his two main successes coming from remakes of his own work. Otherwise he spends his time being a "horror icon," a distinction he's earned, but not necessarily maintained. Perhaps he thought he could hop back into the director's chair with little to no hangover. Unfortunately, "My Soul to Take" can be read as nothing other than an utter, disturbing, nearly-unwatchable failure. It forces us to ask if Craven has any idea what he is doing anymore. If nothing changes, we'll get another answer next year when he returns again to the "Scream" films. Let's hope he finally exorcises that little demon. Producing remakes of his own films would actually be preferable to this status quo.