Wes Craven returns to his “Nightmare on Elm Street” roots, but with a pinch of his other big hit “Scream” added to the mix, in this tale of a bunch of seven Connecticut teens who were all born on the very night that a serial killer was himself killed by police. As they turn sixteen, the killings resume—with the seven as the targets. Has the guy returned—his body was never found after an accident with the ambulance—or has one of the kids, perhaps the child of the criminal, inherited his soul and now taken up his work? After all, his wife went into labor the very night he died.
The “Riverton Ripper” might not have quite the same star quality of Freddy Krueger, but he’s obviously cut from the same cloth. But Craven realizes that straight-up horror isn’t enough nowadays, so he includes lots of swiftly-cut high school stuff, complete with dialogue that’s like a series of riffs, in an effort to make it cool, like the “Scream” franchise (though it avoids the in-joke attitude). Unfortunately, the combination proves a pretty incoherent brew. Also a strangely tedious one; as the rather dully staged killings and long scenes of exposition drag on, you might be forgiven for thinking that as viewers settle into their seats, they should repeat the first line of the childhood prayer from which the title’s taken—“Now I lay me down to sleep.”
Max Thieriot stars as Adam, unfortunately nicknamed Bug, one of the seven birthday kids and clearly the most troubled of the bunch, who occasionally goes off on what seem to be schizophrenic rants. The others are Alex (John Magaro), Bug’s best friend; Brandon (Nick Lashaway), the jock bully; Brittany (Paulina Olszynski), the blonde beauty Bug’s infatuated with; Jerome (Denzel Whitaker), the likable blind guy; Jay (Jeremy Chu), the smiling cutup; and Penelope (Zena Grey), the obligatory Jesus freak. Among the other prominent figures are Bug’s concerned mother May (Jessica Hecht); Paterson (Frank Grillo), a detective with a limp that resulted from his run-in with the Ripper; and Fang (Emily Meade), the campus mean girl, who’s eventually revealed to have a different given name and a reason for her dislike of Bug.
After freezing up during an annual midnight ritual to ward off the spirit of the Ripper on the anniversary of his death, Bug finds himself stuck in a nightmarish scenario in which the killer does in fact reappear, in “Scream”-like mask with knife in hand, and begin offing the seven kids. The question that’s supposed to keep up in suspense is whether the actual killer has returned, or whether it’s one of the seven themselves—and if so, which one? The likeliest choice is Bug himself, of course, but Craven exerts himself to drop red herrings all over the place—including unexplained apparitions—to keep us on our toes. But despite, or because of, his strenuous efforts, “My Soul To Take” grows increasingly muddled and farfetched, and even a prolonged concluding confrontation—or series of confrontations, actually—proves surprisingly tame and tedious.
The blandness of the movie can’t be blamed on Thieriot, who makes a sympathetic young protagonist and would probably do well with better material. And while the rest of the cast tends to play things too broadly, they’re acceptable, at least. Nor is the crew at fault; the picture looks quite good, although the camerawork by Petra Korner and editing by Peter McNulty and Todd E Miller contribute to the muddy, murky feel of the last reel. (“My Soul To Take” is being released, incidentally, in 3D. But there aren’t any moments that really take advantage of the format, and presumably this is yet another case of post-production conversion that’s little more than an advertising gimmick.)
No, though the movie’s about some sort of eternal killer, the real culprit here is Craven, whose attempt to feed on his own earlier successes results in a structurally slipshod and distinctly non-frightening pastiche.