Saturday, March 19, 2011

DVD surprise: Wes Craven's bizarre/goofy, bloody/funny scare-fest MY SOUL TO TAKE

When a genre director tries something different, watch out. And not necessarily of the filmmaker himself, for critics and audiences can just as often be remarkably obtuse, all on our own. Quite unwilling to go with something new or different unless we are spoon-fed pre-certified reactions, we sometimes manage to pass up or even denigrate the unusual, lets-try-something-new movie.  Last fall, for instance, one crept past us, and while I make no claim to the greatness or even all-out success of Wes Craven's very odd little duckling MY SOUL TO TAKE, I will say, so far as the DVD release is concerned, that aficionados of horror/slasher (and/or satire of same) should stick this one their list.

Horror-meister Craven (shown at right) doesn't often stray far from the path, yet when he does, the results have proven, at the very least, to be interesting (the historical/heartwarming Music of the Heart); delightfully winning (his Père Lachaise cemetery segment of Paris, je t'aime); a riveting, knockout thriller (Red Eye) and to a lesser extent his comic take on the werewolf genre (Cursed). With My Soul to Take, he's straying again, but within the framework of his usual genre. Yet what he has done here does not compare with much that he (or anyone else) has yet tried.

"But why would they want to?", I can hear some of you mouthing. Wait. Simply for the classroom scene featuring a very big bird, this movie is worth a watch, not to mention the manner in which it conflates Mean Girls-and-boys movies with your typical slasher flick. The meanest of these girls is nicknamed Fang, and exactly who she is does not come clear, cleverly, until halfway through the movie. For an R-rated film, this one is relatively slight on gore but heavy on cursing and sexual business (the latter talked about, not shown).

The array of possible victims includes everyone from a hot Christian chick and a horny footballer to the confused blond played by Paulina Olszynski (above), and the way that characters keeping moving from sort-of-good to sort-of-bad and back again is a bit more bracing than your usual parade of characterless drones. By the time the finale arrives (at 107 minutes, the movie's longer than most of its type, yet it moves fast), you'll know why you stuck it out: The end credits are gloriously animated and colorful, and best of all, down both sides of the screen, one after another, come what looks like every f-ing storyboard that went into the film. Fun! You may even want to rewind and watch those credits again.

The plot? Forget it.  Serial killer, very hard to annihilate, comes back to wreak vengeance on the seven babies, now teenagers, who were born prematurely the night that he died.  Huh?  Yes.  (Or did he really ever die at all?) No better nor worse than most others in this genre, this plot works mostly because of the weird fun Craven (who wrote, as well as directed) has with it.  I didn't catch the 3-D version when it came (and quickly went) in theaters, but the 2-D Blue-ray works just fine.

Among the young people in the smart and attractive cast, Max Theriot (above, right) and Emily Meade (above, left) stand out. In the adult cast, look for theatrical stalwarts like Raúl Esparza and Jessica Hecht slumming -- and having a fine time doing it. As I said, My Soul to Take is no great shakes, but it does provide a decent enough amount of fun, novelty and -- yes -- even a few scares.

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