There’s a lot going on as My Soul To Take opens, so much that viewers could be forgiven for thinking they’ve walked into the end of the movie by mistake. A serial killer is on the loose and identifiable only by his weapon of choice: a mean-looking knife with the word “vengeance” written on it. A seemingly innocent man discovers he carries the blade himself. Then the voices in his head start talking to him. Then chaos erupts, interrupted by gushers of exposition, including the revelation that seven babies have been born prematurely at exactly the same time. Then it’s 16 years later. Whew. Let’s take a moment to catch our collective breath. Uh oh. Here comes more exposition, all about how the seven kids, now teenagers, believe they have to fight the serial killer’s spirit. And how he might be in their bodies. And, oh, it’s so convoluted.
The film around it, however, works from a time-tested, butt-simple, two-step formula: 1) Assemble a photogenic young cast. 2) Kill them. This is horror giant Wes Craven’s first film since the terrific Red Eye in 2005, and his first as both a writer and director since the also-terrific New Nightmare in 1994. It feels like a project rescued from the bottom shelf, combining the supernatural-avenging-spirit elements of Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street (and Shocker, if anyone remembers that) with the whodunit-isms of the Scream series. Worse, it only bears traces of Craven’s signature technical brilliance—there’s not a memorable setpiece anywhere—and boasts one of the weakest slasher villains in recent memory. Craven shoots much of the film in the suburban twilight haze of the first Scream film, which creates an eerie atmosphere. But he fills it with interchangeable, disposable teens who only occasionally have the decency to drop off in an unexpected order. As for the 3-D, much ballyhooed in the film’s advertisements, it’s another muddy conversion that does little but make the film’s unconvincing blood effects look a little darker. It’s good, theoretically at least, to have Craven back. But why come back for this?