My Soul to Take

A new horror film written and directed by Wes Craven should be a joyous event. The legendarily twisted mind behind “A Nightmare on Elm Street” hasn’t written a feature since 2007 (“The Hills Have Eyes II”), hasn’t directed one since 2005 (“Red Eye”), and hasn’t written AND directed one since 1994 (“New Nightmare”). Unfortunately, “My Soul to Take” is a train wreck, one of the most bafflingly awful horror movies I’ve ever seen. That would be true no matter who had made it. The words “written and directed by Wes Craven” only make the train wreck sadder.

The hilariously condensed prologue tells a story that could easily have been its own film. In it, a family man named Abel (Raul Esparza) discovers that one of the personalities in his multiple personality disorder is the town’s notorious serial killer. He’s as surprised by this as everyone else is. The cops shoot him a bunch of times, then the ambulance crashes on the way to the hospital, then Abel either falls in the lake and drowns or escapes into the woods and lives. Meanwhile, on this very night, seven babies are born at the local hospital.

Now it is 16 years later. The Riverton Ripper is the stuff of local legend, and the seven kids born the night he supposedly died are quasi-celebrities. Each year on their shared birthday they gather at the site of the ambulance crash to celebrate, like their own private Halloween. In some absurdly lazy exposition, the kids’ leader, date-rapey football quarterback Brandon (Nick Lashaway), recounts the whole story for the kids who are assembled, all of whom already know the whole story.
The most timid of the Riverton Seven goes by the nickname Bug (Max Thieriot). He’s a little dimwitted but harmless, and for some reason is obsessed with the California condor. (The movie is fixated on birds in general.) On his and the other kids’ 16th birthday, he starts having weird visions. He even seems to channel the thoughts of the other kids, as if they all share a consciousness.

This goes back to what an EMT said in the ambulance the night the Riverton Ripper did his thing. She said her Haitian relatives believed that “multiple personalities” really meant multiple souls, and that when the person died all those separate souls had to go somewhere, and hey, what if they enter the bodies of babies born at the same time? WHAT IF??

Unsurprisingly, the Riverton Seven start getting killed, one by one. Has the Ripper been alive all this time, planning his revenge? Or is one of the seven killing his or her fellows? Or is the killer somebody else entirely? Or do you not care very much?

Based on this description, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the movie. Goodness knows there have been better horror movies based on dumber ideas. What sinks it is Craven’s simplistic, ham-fisted writing and inert direction. The killer attacks are mundane, devoid of suspense or terror, and reveal too much about the culprit. Characters uncover secrets that apparently everyone else in town already knew, and that even the audience figured out a long time ago. The first half of the movie is devoted to the weird hierarchy at Bug’s high school, where a mean girl named Fang (Emily Meade) rules with an iron fist and doles out punishments to lesser students — none of which has anything to do with anything.

I am pleased to report, however, that while “My Soul to Take” is terrible, at least it is not the boring kind of terrible. You cannot be bored when watching Max Thieriot try to impersonate someone with multiple personalities, nor when Bug and his friend Alex (John Magaro) are eavesdropping on the girls’ restroom, or when a religious nut (Zena Grey) is praying with the principal’s pregnant daughter in an empty gymnasium, or any of the many, many times that someone is beating the crap out of Bug. Also, one of the characters says, “It is not OK for everyone to be killing each other all the time!,” and I think maybe that was funny on purpose. I think.

D- (1 hr., 47 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, a lot of blood and fairly strong violence.)