What explains My Soul to Take, Wes Craven's latest dead teenagers movie?
Did he turn this incoherent fiasco in as incomplete? Did the studio sign off on a horror movie based on the words “We can do it in 3-D” in the pitch?
Or has the Nightmare on Elm Street/Scream director finally gone off his rocker?
This waking nightmare is a puzzle with no solutions, a twist that isn't a twist at all. Unconventional, it's an impressionistic horror picture pointlessly rendered in 3-D, a movie of sketches and riffs from earlier works: scenes that don't build to anything, murders that are plot devices only and so scattered that the suspense is as lacking as mystery.
And it demands concentration, primarily because it makes little sense.
Soul is a variation on the “He's coming back to kill you” formula, set in a town absorbed by the legend of a mass murderer everyone thinks drowned 16 years ago.
The teens of Riverton High celebrate “Ripper Day” every year, starting with a beer-bust candlelit vigil in front of the hulk of the burned out ambulance where the Riverton Ripper was last seen. They chant at the river — “Make yourself known!” And they taunt the seven kids who were born the night he died in order to vanquish a puppet version of him at midnight on Ripper Day, thus protecting all the youths and the town for another year.
Of the seven kids who share a birthday, Brandon (Nick Lashaway) is the jock bully. Penelope (Zena Grey) is the devout Christian who thinks “The Lord's Prayer” will protect her. Brittany (Paulina Olszynski) is the spoiled mean-girl blond. There's the blind kid Jerome (Denzel Whitaker) and Jay (Jeremy Chu) and the bullied, put-upon Alex (John Magaro).
And Bug (Max Thieriot) is the sensitive one, the kid who has nightmares, who dreams of deaths and who wonders if he's losing his mind. He's Alex's best friend, and no, we don't know why they call him “Bug.”
It's a high school run by the pale, mean girl dictator Fang (Emily Meade, pretty and pretty unconvincing), who determines who gets to be bullied today, who goes out with whom, the works. Only the fearless Penelope can save Alex from a beatdown. “Do NOT bring the wrath of Jehovah down on you!”
But it's a high school where everybody walks home from school and every walk goes through the woods. And this is the year when the kids don't complete their ritual “slaying” of the Ripper. So kids are picked off, in bursts, over the course of 100 or so minutes.
Craven, who also wrote this, scattered semi-snappy banter in the script. “You puked on Brandon O'Neal. You're a hero of The Revolution!”
A cop (Frank Grillo) who survived the Ripper's last massacre isn't buying that the first victim got drunk and fell off a bridge.
“Kid's in my 12-step,” he growls.
A victim is asked, “Anybody you want to say good-bye to?” “My unborn child,” the boy cracks as he spits up blood.
Random snatches of dialogue, random exchanges of teen wisdom, and random scenes — a hilarious Show and Tell on the California condor — are what work. It's the frights, the murders, the scenes that don't seem to fit together in the order they're shown here, that don't.
Soul is a movie that demands your concentration by not playing by the rules or making sense at all at any given moment. Still, a couple of the performances are engaging enough that there might be a better high school movie hidden inside this dead teenager one. Not all of them, though.
Worst of all, the finale has one of those “Let's explain everything” blasts of exposition that is supposed to forgive the clutter and mess in front of it. And the one thing the finale doesn't explain is how My Soul to Take got into theaters in this sorry state.