In the St. George household, we try to have bad horror movie marathons for pretty much every occasion. Halloween, obviously, is no exception.
This year’s Splatterfest was held on a Friday evening and featured two movies: My Soul to Take and Darkness Falls.
This is a wildly incoherent movie. I kind of hope Wes Craven is ashamed of himself.
The Riverton Ripper, a serial killer with seven different personalities, is killed. Maybe. On the same night, seven babies are born prematurely. Sixteen years later, those babies have grown up to be a bunch of annoying teenagers. Fortunately, they’re being killed off one by one . . .
1. This movie was written and directed by the legendary Wes Craven. The last time Craven attempted such a feat was way back in 1994 with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (or the seventh Freddy Kreuger movie). There are some nice shots here, as well as some interesting, if terribly confused ideas, but I think it’s more than fair to say that Mr. Craven may have lost his touch.
2. Because . . . good Lord, I don’t even know where to start. Dialogue? Concept? Plot? It all kind of sucks, to be honest. I’m still not entirely sure how this whole soul nonsense is supposed to work. The protagonist may or may not be literally brain damaged. And the leaps of logic some of these characters make are absolutely frightening. Did you know a high school principal is not only morally but legally obligated to send a potentially disturbed student to a state facility for psychological testing, even if the parent does not consent? Er, yeah. Neither did I . . . because that’s crazy.
3. But let’s back up a bit, shall we? Let’s first talk about the Riverton Ripper, aka Abel.
The first ten to fifteen minutes of this movie is dedicated to Abel’s discovery that one of his many personalities is actually a psychotic murderer. It’s also dedicated to a bunch of people killing each other very, very suddenly. Then some of these people (very improbably) don’t quite manage to die. Then they kill each other again. Then some of these people still won’t die, and so on and so forth.
Here are some relevant notes to keep in mind before we get to the actual meat of the movie. (Warning: there are a lot of them.)
3A. Even if you’re pretty sure that none of your multiple personalities is a bloodthirsty killer, it is still considered courteous to tell your wife that you’ve been diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder. Especially if you’re wrong about that whole bloodthirsty killer bit. Asshat.
3B. The Riverton Ripper likes to kill people with a big ass kitchen knife that has ‘VENGEANCE’ written across the blade. This is a curious point for two reasons:
3B-1. Who the hell is the Ripper avenging? Seriously, did he just think it would look cool? I’m pretty sure he just thought it would look cool. Double asshat.
3B-2. Even if the Ripper is seeking vengeance upon somebody . . . was it OCD or early onset Alzheimer’s that necessitated to word ‘vengeance’ to literally be written upon the weapon? My friends and I have come to the conclusion that we now want our own knife sets to be sold to us with the individual purpose of each knife inscribed into each blade. Specifically, we want a set that includes bread, butter, and sacrificial knives.
3C. I’m all for recognizing that mental illness is not akin to pure evil, but that’s a far cry from having to shake the hand of a dude who just murdered his wife and unborn child, right? Compassion is one thing, but absolution may best be left for people who don’t carry guns for a living, you know what I mean?
3D. If your serial killer having multiple personalities is a key plot point in your film, you might want to spend more than twenty seconds establishing said personalities, lest the audience think that some crazy dude’s just talking to himself in front of a mirror. Also, it may be for the best if your villain doesn’t play like a strange cross between Gollum and Jigsaw.
3E. There’s a psychologist who gives an interview on TV about the Ripper (before they know the Ripper’s true identity). The shrink decides to wildly speculate that the killer might not even be aware of what he’s doing, that he might be an ordinary family man who goes to church and walks his dog and whatnot. And . . . really? Really? You just happen to guess that this random psycho stalking your town has fucking multiple personalities? Jesus. Shut up, writers.
3F. “Epinephrine kicks ass!” Especially when it’s used like a miracle drug.
3G. “She’s dead. Way dead.” More sage—and totally professional—dialogue from the paramedics.
3H. You know when I think is the best time to bring up random superstitions from Haiti? While I’m hanging out in the back of an ambulance with a serial killer. Seriously, dialogue will continue to be discussed in later notes, but I think this movie may have some of the very worst exposition I have ever seen. Here is the exchange between Main Cop and Lady Paramedic (with some commentary in italics from me):
Main Cop: “He said he’d get them all next time. What do you think he meant?” (Really? You’re asking the paramedic this? How the fuck should she know?)
Lady Paramedic: “Maybe he was talking about his other personalities. My family is from Haiti, and down there they don’t say that someone like him has multiple personalities.” (Of course they don’t.)
Main Cop: “What do they say he has?”
Lady Paramedic: “Multiple souls.” (Of COURSE that’s what they say. And of COURSE you just happen to know this random piece of voodoo trivia. Hey, instead of proving that you would kick ass at the Hoodoo for Horror Movies category in Jeopardy, aren’t you supposed to be, you know, tending to your patient on the gurney, keeping track of his vitals or something like that?)
Main Cop: “What’s the difference?” (Really? What’s the difference between personalities and souls? SOMEONE didn’t get a gold star at Sunday School.)
Lady Paramedic: “Personalities die when the patients die. Souls live on . . . . it’s all just superstition, I suppose.” (Oh my fucking GOD . . .)
And I feel the need to remind you that everything I’ve covered (or bitched about) so far? All in the first fifteen minutes.
4. Now, let’s talk about Bug.
Bug is an unusual name for a protagonist, but that’s okay because Bug is an exceptionally unusual protagonist. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Here? Not so much.
Without getting into too many spoilers, it’s never entirely clear what in the holy hell is wrong with Bug. There are a few different possibilities, none of which are very well defined. More importantly, however, Bug is portrayed as being all of the following:
B: Miracle Baby
C: Mentally Challenged
I’m not saying you absolutely can’t write that character . . . but if you’re going to make the attempt, you need to be a whole lot more talented than the guy who wrote that bullshit Haiti exposition I just posted. Bug is like two badly written characters forced into one body. I don’t know if I can fault the actor too much—the material’s just so all over the place, I’m not sure what the hell he could have done with it—but while certain scenes are at least interesting, Bug isn’t exactly the kind of guy you can root for.
5. I don’t know if you can exactly root for the killer either, though. He might be doing the world a public service by getting rid of some of these teenagers . . . almost all of them are annoying, but . . . a bad guy in his getup should look kind of menacing, you know? Unfortunately, it is hard to think of the Ripper as particularly menacing, especially after you see him run. His arms are, like, held out to the side. His dreds kind of flop. He just looks ridiculous.
6. A random piece of advice: ”If things get too hot, just turn on the prayer conditioning.”
Wow. Just . . . wow.
7. The title of this movie is fairly arbitrary. If you’ve somehow gone through life without hearing it before, the title comes from this particularly creepy Christian prayer: “As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” (This prayer always disturbed me when I had to say it with the kids I was babysitting for back in high school.)
Still. Creepy or not, the prayer has no bearing on the rest of the film at all. It’s posted on a couple of bedroom walls (seriously, two of these teenagers have actual prayers posted on their walls? Where the hell is this place?) and the film uses it in one of those pseudo-creepy VO’s that horror movies love to do, but otherwise . . . yeah. Totally not significant.
8. When an ambulances crashes in the woods, it’s a totally normal thing to leave its smoldering remains behind to be used as a memorial. That happens.
9. The best thing . . . pretty much the only positive thing . . . I can say about this movie is that some of the visuals are pretty cool. I like how they do the blood spatter when one girl is killed. I also like the shot of the same girl’s body being dragged over the ground. I know it sounds weird, but it’s actually kind of an oddly pretty shot.
I also like some of the trippier aspects of the film, like how they show a kid swimming in a mirror. The visuals all work fairly well. Too bad pretty much everything else about the movie sucks.
10. Finally, a brief hypothetical for you, before we get to Spoilers.
So, you’re a parent. There’s a local legend that the ghost of this serial killer will come back and kill both your child and six other children on the anniversary of his death. But they’ve been saying that for the past 16 years and nothing’s ever happened before, so you’re not worried, right? Except now one kid dies on the anniversary, and two more the day after. Your plan?
Stay home instead of getting the fuck out of dodge with your children?
Yes, that’s what I thought any reasonable person would say.
Okay, so we have a lot of ground to cover. I’ll try to keep this as coherent as possible, but let me tell you: the movie isn’t giving me much to fucking work with. Still. Back to the beginning. Again.
Abel manages to both stab himself in the chest and get shot in the chest repeatedly. None of this will stop him, however, from leaping up from the gurney in the back of the ambulance and slicing open the whole right side of Paramedic Lady’s neck. The ambulance crashes hard, but Abel’s still a-okay enough to escape the gurney and disappear into the night. In a side note, walking off horrifying car crashes is going to be something of a theme for three of the next four horror movies I end up reviewing here.
Anyway, so maybe Abel lived, maybe he didn’t. Who knows? His body’s never discovered. But Lady Paramedic must have been telling her Haiti stories at the coffee shop for kicks, because apparently there’s this whole local legend about what happened to Abel’s dispossessed souls. (Yes, somehow, Lady Paramedic managed to survive. I don’t know. Maybe she got a shot of that kickass epi, too.) We learn all about this local legend through yet another completely ridiculous (and poorly delivered) bit of exposition by Jock Kid:
Jock Kid: ”Legend has it that we are the mirror of Abel Plankoff’s seven personalities, the ones that turned the Ripper in, and the Ripper still wants revenge. So Abel Plankoff is dead, but his ghost isn’t. No, it lurks . . . just waiting until Ripper Night because on that day, our birthday, tonight, the Devil has told him he can take his revenge. But he can only come out of the river at this spot. And every year since we have been able, one of us Riverton Seven has volunteered to drive him back to the river where he belongs.”
Seriously? Who the fuck even talks like that?
Anyway, Bug gets volunteered to “kill” Abel’s ghost . . . or push over the stupid looking giant puppet thing that’s supposed to represent his ghost. But Bug is scared and can’t do it, and the cops break up the party, so . . . maybe that’s what kickstarts this whole thing? That would make no logical sense, of course, but neither does anything else, and they never actually bother to give a real reason on why the killing starts up again. (Other than the plot demands it, of course.)
Bug freaks out that the ghost really will come back because he couldn’t push over a puppet. Mind you, no one’s died yet, and the way he’s acting . . . it’s unclear if Bug is supposed to be just sweet and innocent (he’s called innocent several times throughout the film) or if he’s supposed to be at least somewhat developmentally disabled, because you’d expect his line of reasoning to come out of an eight year old’s mouth, not a sixteen year old’s.
This confusion will continue throughout the movie as we discover that Bug is actually Abel’s son. (They managed to save him, even though the mother was way dead.) And it’s not like it’s all that surprising that Bug is Abel’s son, but the way the town treats him is baffling and seems to depend on whatever the particular scene demands. He might be a miracle baby—the only good thing to come out of that nightmare sixteen years ago—or he might be a curse baby—doomed to be schizophrenic like his father. (I’m pretty sure multiple personalities and schizophrenia are two entirely different diagnoses, but I suppose it’s been a long time since Abnormal Psychology at junior college, so what the hell do I know, right?) It’s difficult to play a character that the town is supposed to fear and shelter, all at the same time. For that matter, I simply don’t know if I buy Bug making it to sixteen without anyone telling him who his dad is. Kids are cruel, you know? There’s just no way some fellow student wouldn’t have taunted him with it by now.
Anyway, the Riverton Seven start getting killed off one by one. Sometimes, the Ripper appears to be more of a I’m-going-to-silently-stab-or-eviscerate-you killer. Other times (like when he kills the jock), the Ripper starts randomly channeling a more Freddy Krueger-esque type of humor. Here is an exchange:
Brandon: “Put Brittany on please.”
The Ripper: “She’s not here.”
Brandon: “Well, where is she?”
The Ripper: “Where you’re going to go.”
Brandon: “I’m gonna go to the church.”
The Ripper: “No, you’re not.”
Brandon: “What do you mean, “‘No, I’m not?’”
The Ripper: “Think hotter.”
The Ripper: “Try hell!”
[the Ripper appears behind him, stabs him]
The Ripper also kills off Brittany, the only pseudo love interest for Bug, fairly early on in the film. I was surprised by this at first, but Brittany is kind of a bitch and clearly not interested in Bug . . . I just assumed she would come around or something, especially as she seems more important than the other two teenage girls, Churchy and Mean Girl. But Mean Girl—also called Fang—also called Leah—quickly takes center stage once Brittany is dead. It’s revealed that Fang is actually Bug’s sister—which might have been a nicer twist if they’d done anything at all to lead up to it—and she’s the one who reveals to Bug that Evil Abel was actually their dead daddy.
See, Fang isn’t really a true Mean Girl . . . she’s just bitchy and awful because her dad was a serial killer. (Which, okay, I might be kind of bitchy and awful too, but Fang has no actual depth, just fashionably long bangs and a permanent scowl.) Her reveal as the little creepy girl from the beginning of the movie is sort of strange, though, because they treat it as an actual Reveal, like it’s something we couldn’t put together the second we know who Bug really is. The only stumbling block to this whole thing is that Fang has to be at least three years older than Bug, and Bug himself is sixteen, so . . . what the hell is Fang still doing in high school?
Well, it turns out that she’s been afraid, or something, about being out there in the scary real world where she’s not in control of everything. I don’t know. I’m not saying that the real world isn’t scary and all, but come on. You’re going to just hang out in high school for the rest of your life? Maybe I could buy this if there was actually more than one throwaway line devoted to the concept, but really, I think this tiny bit of exposition is just a last ditch effort to justify Fang’s whole existence in the movie.
(And also, I just have to point out: the high school I went to? I’m relatively sure that the kids who got held back— for whatever reason, be it academic troubles or facing-your-fears bullshit—would not have been the top of the peer pressure food chain. I mean, I guess could be wrong, but if you were 19 and still going to high school voluntarily . . . yeah, I really don’t think anyone thought those kids were cool.)
But moving on. The Riverton Ripper kills off a bunch of the Riverton Seven. Bug continues having weird visions of the dead kids, like when Churchy pops up in his mirror and points out the bloody Vengeance Knife sitting in the bathroom sink. The film is trying really hard to get you to believe that Bug is the killer, but actually, it’s Alex, Bug’s best friend.
Alex is sort of an interesting character who’s kind of wasted in this movie. He’s unpopular, comes from an abusive home, and deals with people punching him by pretending it’s something he wanted in the first place. He tries to teach this philosophy to Bug, and it becomes sort of a theme throughout the movie . . . which would be kind of cool, you know, if the writing was a lot stronger.
Anyway, Alex comes to Bug’s house and they have a conversation that, one, heavily implies that Bug is the psycho killer, and two, tells us that Alex killed his abusive stepdad. (Which is kind of cool, actually, but it would have been nice to actually see the scene itself.) Bug goes to get Alex a glass of water or something, but then the Ripper attacks while he’s downstairs. Fake Mom is found dead. Main Cop is killed. Fang and Bug are chased around for a while, but they survive because the Ripper runs off after he hears a noise upstairs.
Bug runs upstairs only to find the last living member of the Riverton Seven in his bedroom: Jerome, the blind kid. (Well, Alex is still alive, obviously, but he has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Funny how that coincides with the Ripper showing up.)
At this point in the film, Jerome’s absence for the past half hour has been rather conspicuous, and I was kind of hoping against hope that he would be the bad guy. (You don’t see enough blind serial killers in movies.) Alas, Jerome has been stabbed. They give a quick explanation for his presence—Alex texted him to come over so they could all be together—but not unlike Fang’s age, it feels thrown in at the last minute, like the writers suddenly realized, Shit! We haven’t killed the blind kid yet! Dammit! Well, better do it fast, then.
Anyway, Jerome calls Bug a hero and then promptly bites it. Alex pops back in, and he and Bug have a conversation that’s almost identical to the one they had a few scenes ago. Seriously, it’s like the last ten minutes of running around and trying to stay alive never even happened. This time, however, Bug realizes that Alex is the Ripper . . . or, to be more precise, that Alex is being possessed by Evil Abel’s murderous personality.
Cause if you remember your Haitian folklore: multiple personalities actually mean multiple souls. So I think each of Abel’s other souls flew into the Riverton Seven when they were born, in addition to the souls these babies already had. Alex, you see, has two souls/personalities: Alex and the Ripper. Mind you, nobody else in the group seems to have been suffering from any kind of identity crisis from carrying around two souls, so I’m not actually sure.
And I’m not positive if Bug is supposed to have one of his daddy’s souls, or if he’s just connected to the others because he’s Abel’s biological son. At first, I thought all the times that Bug creepily mimics the Riverton Seven was a reflection of his ability to connect with the other souls—which would also be why he’s having hallucinations of them in his bathroom mirror—but he seems to do something very similar with a character who isn’t a part of the Riverton Seven, so who the hell even knows? And Bug says something about how the other souls are somehow actually making him smarter? Does he take these souls in after they die? Is he just a little psycho himself? It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense.
But let’s ignore that and gets this done. Alex/Ripper wants to frame Dead, Blind Jerome for all of the murders. Mind you, I still think a blind serial killer in a horror movie is an interesting concept, but . . . really? All the people you can choose from, and you pick the blind kid to frame? Seriously? Well, whatever. Bug doesn’t want to play ball, and they tussle, and eventually Bug manages to stab Alex/Ripper. You get to see the Real Alex for a few minutes there, and then Alex/Ripper dies.
The film ends with the cops coming and Bug doing one of the worst voiceover endings I’ve ever heard:
“I am the condor. The Keeper of the Souls. I eat death for breakfast. I live in a house of blood, and I accept that. That’s all a man can do. I was ready to be arrested that night. I wasn’t ready for what happened instead. Leah had told them everything, and I was celebrated as a hero. Alex Dunkelman killed his stepfather, a cop, a mother, and five of the Riverton Seven. And I alone had stopped him from killing more. I didn’t feel like a hero at all. But if it makes Riverton feel safe at night, I’ll fake that I’m their hero. And I’ll fake it good. Alex wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Oh. My. God. Wes Craven, what the hell happened to you?
Some decent ideas are buried deep, deep within this muddled mess of a horror movie. So-so acting and good-ish visuals . . . but an incoherent script and story makes this movie a nightmare. And, you know. Not the good kind.
Er. John Magaro, I guess? He plays Alex, and I think he does as good of a job as he can with the crazy ass material he’s handed.
I’m creating the new category of Least Valuable Player just so I can shake my head at Wes Craven and this script some more. For shame, Mr. Craven. For shame.
Compassion kills. In the beginning of the film, supposedly dying Abel reaches his hand out to Main Cop, and Main Cop balks at first until the shrink’s all, “Would it hurt you to be human? Just once.” And . . . yes. Yes, apparently, it would hurt the cop to be human, because Abel then grabs the Main Cop’s gun, shoots him in the chest, and then shoots the shrink in the forehead. So . . . humanity is not a virtue, then.
Also: fake it good.
Also: epinephrine kicks ass!