Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: And So Sayeth The Lord...

Warning: This musing will contain spoilers for My Soul To Take and The Book of Eli. If you haven't seen either, turn back now, and you won't be able to say I spoiled your movie-going experience. If you have, read on.

My Soul To Take being supernatural horror is a bit of a no-brainer for those who know Wes Craven's work well; after all, he is perhaps most famous for A Nightmare on Elm Street. If he works well within dream horror, there's something to be said about how you might be able to transplant that into straight supernatural horror. So on that count, you'd think it would succeed.

But one thing you might not have known about My Soul To Take is that its supernatural elements take a more... shall we say... spiritual angle as the film reaches its close. You can see the beginnings of the spiritual elements of its story by virtue of its title, derived from a prayer that plays a pretty big role throughout the entire film in a way that isn't immediately obvious. Perhaps another indicator is that one of the main characters (and one of the Ripper's victims) is a hyper-religious Bible nut who studies about it and either prays to God all the time or throws a 'you're going to hell' line at the wrongdoers (thankfully, she throws them at the mandatory asshole victim and not the guys who don't deserve it, so she's cool). She even quotes Psalm 23 prominently at one point as she's walking in the woods.

But what you don't get instantly is the hints that angels and demons are at play here. Yes, we get Bug getting visions of the other victims by looking in mirrors, and he seems to be not entirely himself, but it's not until the final minutes of the film that we get any indication of what's going on (although a few genre savvy viewers will most likely figure it out well before then). It's also not until the end of the film that we realize the Ripper was posessed by a demon intending to start a whole cycle of sacrifices with one of the Seven.

And up until that point? The Ripper felt very grounded in the real world. In fact, the denoument felt like it was ripped straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. It all could've had some grounding in the real world, as the posession tended to manifest more like Dissosciative Identity Disorder than what we'd find in The Exorcist.

If nothing else, this to me makes it feel like My Soul To Take might serve as a go-to example for how to make movies with spiritual elements that have enough grounding in the real world to make both elements work fairly well. Yes, the Ripper is a little supernatural, but there's nothing he does that can't be done in the real world. Yes, there's demonic posession, but it's not quite your typical posessions. The blend of the two works really well.

Thinking about this brings back The Book of Eli, which I slammed for having one of the dumbest twist endings in the movies, and is currently my lowest-rated movie that I've ever reviewed since I started reviewing movies. I think one of the principal problems that movie had was it tried too hard to involve the spiritual elements. It all felt very grounded in the real world, right up until it revealed he was blind. After that, the fridge logic came rushing in, even as I was watching.

Yes, I get he was supposed to be divinely inspired. The advertising campaign made no attempt to disguise that. But they did it in a way that invalidated the rest of the movie as a result; Eli could've given Carnegie the book at any time after Mila Kunis' character joined him and it wouldn't have affected the ending all that much. As well, even if Carnegie's girlfriend had been free from threatening, a Braille Bible apparently takes more than one volume to write. (By the way, I didn't mind the fact that he had memorized the entire King James Bible so bad; you'd be incredibly surprised at what a man's memory is capable of storing.) As well, the whole twist smelled of 'God exists in this universe, people': even if his other senses were heightened, there's no way Eli should've been kicking that much ass as a blind man. It pushed the willing suspension of disbelief too far for something with its hyper-realistic post-apocalypse treatment.

This is something that My Soul to Take manages to avoid. Yes, the elements are there and fairly obvious once we get to the end, but they don't invalidate the movie entirely. I think this is more than just the fact that it's supernatural horror versus Fallout 3 with Bibles; I think it's also on the virtue that it balances its real world and spiritual elements perfectly. Is that a good thing? I'll let you decide. But I like to think it is.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

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