There’s sure to be a barrage of publicity and audience curiosity when Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson and Co. revive their decade-dormant “Scream” franchise next spring. But buzz has been conspicuously mute around Craven’s current 3D horror exercise, “My Soul to Take,” which opened Oct. 8 without advance press screenings, and it’s easy enough to see why: This dumb, derivative teen slasher movie would be uninspiring coming from any writer-director, let alone one with several genre classics under his belt. Likely to exit most markets well before Halloween, pic should post fair quick-playoff numbers before cashing in on ancillary.
Heavy-handed prologue sets the tone as devoted small-town husband and father Abel (Raul Esparza) suddenly realizes he’s got multiple personalities and is indeed the murderous Riverton Ripper. His pregnant wife does not survive this discovery, leaving a toddler daughter the family’s seeming sole survivor. In a rote gotcha-he’s-not-dead-yet moment (not his first), a seriously wounded Abel escapes police custody, flees into surrounding woods and is never found.
Sixteen years later, the town’s youth sustain a macabre tradition called “Ripper Night,” observing not only the killer’s last-known hurrah, but also the eerily coincidental birthdays of seven teens, all born prematurely the same hour Abel’s spree ended. These “Riverton Seven” consist of doe-eyed naif Bug (Max Thieriot), rumored to have been institutionalized for mental instability, plus his prankster best friend, Alex (John Magaro); cute girl Brittany (Paulina Olszynski); jock jerk Brandon (Nick Lashaway); devoutly religious Penelope (Zena Grey); blind Jerome (Denzel Whitaker); and Jay (Jeremy Chu), who doesn’t survive long enough to demonstrate any earmarking characteristics.
Sure enough, Jay doesn’t make it home that night, meeting up with somebody in a Ripper mask and costume who unfortunately isn’t just playing around. Next day, business briefly goes on as usual, as Bug and Alex scheme to upset the iron rule of school bitch Fang (Emily Meade), evade Brandon’s bullying fist and sort out the intricacies of Penelope crushing on Bug, who’s crushing on Brittany, who’s crushed on by Brandon. Soon, several among these variously sweet 16-year-olds are fertilizing the forest, done in by you-know-what wielding the original killer’s blade (which is engraved with the subtle motto “vengeance”).
“My Soul to Take” features the usual number of false scares and red herrings in addition to actual mayhem, but rarely raises the pulse even at the height of mortal peril. Indeed, it’s a pretty soporific affair, bogged down by awkward expository dialogue, one-dimensional characters (or ones whose suggested hidden sides turn out to be mere tease), bland atmospherics and unmemorable action. Final revelation of the perp’s identity makes less sense than a half-dozen alternatives might have, but by then few viewers will care.
Perfs are adequate within the material’s considerable limits; production packaging is polished. Quality of the 3D is decent, though there’s little sign that pic was designed to take particular advantage of that format. R rating seems to be as much for a few F-bombs dropped as for the fairly mild gore.