What I had to say about My Soul To Take was originally planned to be part of one post about kidnapped sisters and my golden incest prince (Max Thieriot), but as the case with The Family Tree, it just got be too long. So I gave it a post all to itself.
I don’t think it’s widely considered to be all that great of a movie, but a lot of that is just people expecting too much from horror movie king Wes Craven. There are definitely a couple of moments of weak acting, and a lot of the exposition is clunky, but I don’t know, I rather enjoy this movie. The biggest thing that I don’t like about it is that I feel it leaves a lot of open questions. But it’s a testament to the movie itself that I want those questions answered – I’m curious enough to wonder.
In terms of recommending it, you should also know that it’s definitely horror, with plenty of gore and high body count, and also a supernatural element.
I have to say, the first time I watched it I was quite struck by the brother/sister relationship. But having just rewatched it for the purpose of writing about it right now, it didn’t make quite the same impression. Is it highly shippable? Yes, definitely. But it didn’t strike me as quite as suggestive as it originally did.
My Soul To Take is written and directed by Wes Craven. Incest often makes an appearance in the horror genre – because people find it creepy – but I’d almost have to say that Craven’s interest extends beyond that. One of his movies – The People Under The Stairs (1991) – involves an evil inbred family. (I’ve seen it and I would not recommend it as a horror film, a comedy, or to those interested in incest in fiction.)
His The Hills Have Eyes (1977) similarly involves an inbred mob of birth-defected monsters (or so I gather – I haven’t seen it). (In the 2006 remake – a movie which I like quite a lot – the disfigurement is a result of radiation and they are a community rather than one family. The plot involves a family on a road trip – including a teenage son and daughter. They get stranded and terrorized. I wouldn’t really consider the relationship worth writing about in an article like this, but it is worth mentioning.)
But most interesting is that he was originally set to write the screen adaptation of Flowers In The Attic (and direct it), but the producers didn’t like his approach to the incest part of the story. Those of you familiar with the movie and the book know that the incest was cut almost entirely from the 1987 movie. Here is a link for Wes Craven’s script, and here is a description of the highlights. Although his script is described as more graphic and violent than the one that was chosen, he actually writes the incest sex scene as consensual. So it sounds like Craven’s script would have been better than the book! In the novel, the sister quickly forgives her brother for raping her. (She had a burgeoning sexual attraction to her brother, but she was not ready to have sex with him.) I haven’t read the sequels, but I believe they end up living as husband and wife eventually. (Their parents were actually incestuous as well – half-uncle/niece…though apparently the last book, which is actually a prequel, changes them into half-brother/sister.)
I have to look at a person with that much incest in their oeuvre and wonder if they don’t have a particular interest in it. If anything I write ever gets published, I’m sure they’ll be saying the same thing about me AND THEY WILL BE 100% RIGHT. Which isn’t to say that Wes Craven or anyone else isn’t capable of writing an “innocent” brother/sister relationship (though I have to wonder about myself these days on that front), but it certainly casts all of the brother/sister relationships he has written into a suspicious light.
And so we have My Soul To Take.
What is My Soul To Take about, you ask? Well, I’m not sure I even know, even though I’ve seen it twice.
OK, so there was this serial slasher killer called the Riverton Ripper, who was really a man named Abel Plenkov, a family man with a pregnant wife (whom the Ripper kills) and a daughter. And he had multiple personality disorder – 6 personalities in addition to his own, and then a 7th he never knew about – the Ripper. The police seemingly kill the Ripper several times over, but he eventually disappears. One of the myths surrounding him was that he didn’t have multiple personalities – he had multiple souls. And so on that night when he (supposedly) died, 7 kids were born in that same town. The movie takes place 16 years later exactly, focusing on those 7 kids – called the Riverton Seven – as the Ripper returns and begins killing them (and plenty of others) off.
The seven are Adam (called “Bug”), our main character (aka Max Thieriot); his best friend Alex; their friend Jerome; Penelope, who has a major crush on Bug and is always praying and talking about God and prophesying; Brandon, the jerk jock; Brittany, the beautiful popular girl that Bug has a crush on; And Jay, who dies not long after we meet him. The school is run by the powerful Fang (Emily Meade), an HBIC who somehow manages to get everyone to do what she wants. She has her right hand minions (including Brittany), and her muscle (Brandon, who is enamored of Brittany and Fang uses Brittany to control him), and several thriving businesses – including drugs and selling test answers. However she got started, things are definitely at the point now that everyone is too afraid to mess with her. Each day she has Brandon dole out punishments (called “punitives”) – punches, essentially – on a scale of 1-10 for infractions against her and her rule. For example, Bug gets a 3 (for his birthday, mysteriously) and Alex gets an 8 for spying.
Alex wants to take Fang down, so he convinces Bug, who wants to see what Brittany thinks about him, to help him spy on Fang’s meeting with her ladies in the restroom. So Bug puts his cell phone (a new one he had just gotten for his birthday from his mother) in there, while he and Alex listen in on Alex’s phone. Brittany does end up mentioning Bug, but Fang says that Bug has been in and out of mental hospitals and has killed people, and she gets Brittany to agree that he’s no good.
And he begins having conversations with himself like he’s freaking Gollum. But he is also able to imitate the living (like with Alex below) and mimic the living (he’s reciting Fang’s line above), not just people who have already died, which is confusing to me.
It becomes pretty evident that after members of the seven die, their souls go inside of him. I can’t explain the rest. And as the movie progresses, he’s able to distinguish one from the other and they’re able to say things to him. He also becomes smarter, like he has their combined brain power at his disposal.
Bug doesn’t help his case with Brittany when she catches him in the girl’s bathroom holding her purse when he goes back in to retrieve his phone. All things considered, she still treats him pretty well. But it doesn’t really matter, because she dies in the next scene. Penelope had died earlier on – the second of the seven to die – after kissing Bug on the cheek, to his confused surprise. (Which I point out to say that there was a slight development the Bug/Penelope and Bug/Brittany relationships, but not much. And it was all for naught.)
I wouldn’t say that it’s an ingenious twist – it doesn’t really change anything – but I still love the way Craven plays with our perceptions. And I love it when they reveal that someone is a sibling a long time after they’re introduced. They sort of do this in Doom – you assume that Sam is John’s ex-girlfriend, perhaps even an ex-wife, and then you find out that she’s actually his sister. Not only is a thrill (at least, for me) to find out that there’s a brother/sister relationship in the movie, but the delay of the reveal of the true nature of the relationship 1) gives a viewer a chance to start shipping them before they know it’s incest (in an action movie like Doom, you can almost automatically assume that the exes will get back together before the end because that’s what always happens), and 2) forces the viewer to reflect on the nature of the relationship because they mistook it originally. It’s actually a quite effective device.
Fang is no pleasure at home, either. She gives Bug a rocking horse for his birthday – the fact that she has a present for him surprises both Bug and his mother. But once the mother sees what it is, she sends Bug upstairs and she and Fang have a cryptic argument. The mother calls Fang “Leah”, which careful listeners will know is also the name of Abel Plenkov’s three year old little girl who barely escaped being murdered by him in the prologue.
It’s apparent that there is something that Leah wants to tell Bug, and his mother doesn’t want him to know it. The curious Bug eventually gets the truth out of his sister – his mother is really his aunt, and he and Leah are the Ripper’s kids by his murdered wife Sarah. Bug was saved from his mother’s dead body, but not before he suffered some oxygen deprivation – enough that it comes up in conjunction with his mental issues. (Which include long periods of memory loss – like his time in the mental institutions that he doesn’t remember.)
It’s unclear exactly what Bug thought his relation to Leah was – whether he thought they were just cousins who were raised together, or if he thought his mother was mother to them both even though Leah calls her by her first name (May), and whether he knew they shared a father (an unknown person to him) or not. He clearly didn’t know that Leah was Plenkov’s daughter, let alone that he was as well. Bug has the last name Hellerman, but it’s unclear what last name Leah uses, but it can’t be Plenkov.
Leah hates Bug for a couple of reasons – because she associates his birth with when her life went to sh!t, but mostly because of his innocence. He never went through the horror she went through, he doesn’t have to live with the truth that she does – he’s just living in his innocent world of being May’s son with no association to the Ripper except his birthday.
Bug pretends to run off, while May and Leah head off to the church to have protection in numbers from the Ripper. (It sounds like they’re neglecting his safety, but May actually gets murdered before she has a chance to leave the house, and Fang spends the rest of the time hiding from the murderer. So if things were different, one might assume they would have gone to look for him.)
Alex shows up, and Bug and he discuss the fact that if the multiple-souls theory is right, then one of the seven was born with two souls, one of which is the Ripper. At that point only the two of them and Jerome out of the seven are alive. For the next 20 minutes or so it remains ambiguous whether Bug is the killer or not (he had opportunity to kill Jay, Penelope, Brittany, and Brandon earlier on), and then it is revealed that it’s actually Alex. Before all is said and done, Jerome and May and Alex are killed as well. The movie ends with Leah and Bug outside in front of their house as all the police arrive.
There’s also this whole other element about the California condor being an eater of souls. Bug is fascinated by the carrion-eaters and the myths surrounding them. He sees himself as one, especially at the end. His back gets scraped up in the pattern of wings. I never felt like this part fit, and I don’t quite get it. I like it in theory, though.
There’s a number of immediately interesting facts where Bug/Leah is concerned. First of all we have the delayed reveal of their true relationship, which I discussed earlier. Then we have Leah’s name. It’s pronounced like Leia from Star Wars. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “Leia” that’s the only person I think of. So even though the spelling is different, I think the connection is there. Perhaps she was just given a memorable name so that we would recognize it when we heard it again, but let’s not forget that Leia was in a love triangle with her brother Luke before George Lucas decided to reveal that she was Luke’s sister in the third movie (and they even kissed!), and there’s other parallels: they were, unknown to them, the children of a bad dude – Darth Vader – from whom Luke inherited weird powers, and Luke was raised by his aunt and uncle! So, yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch, but who cares. Or is it a stretch? That’s a lot in common.
Then we have the fact that Bug and Leah are the only survivors. It isn’t quite as strong a case as in Doom or House of Wax, where the brother and sister are literally the only people left alive for miles around after a day of massacres, but Bug and Leah are the only two main characters (out of 10 or so at least) that are alive at the end. Among the dead include Bug’s two love interests – Penelope and Brittany. Granted, they’re sort of inside of him now…I don’t really know how that works…but it’s still a nonstarter. I tend to call “love interest elimination” a best case scenario. One of the deleted/extended/alternate scenes shows Bug having a vision of all of them walking down the street – I guess a sort of projection of what’s going on inside his head – but even then Bug is only talking with his friends – Penelope and Brittany are in the distance.
Now we can take a closer look at the scenes between them.
And knowing that Leah is Bug’s sister and knowing Bug’s full story sheds a whole new light on the conversation Fang and her minions have in the bathroom – the one that Bug and Alex overhear.
After Brandon gave Bug and Alex their punitives, Alex talked back to him. Brandon was going to retaliate but Penelope showed up on scene and got the security guard’s attention. Fang/Leah says that maybe Penelope needs a 10, and asks Brittany, “What’s her story, anyway?”
“She’s obsessed with Bug,” Brittany answers. “Girls find him attractive,” she adds in a way that makes it pretty clear that she agrees but is not ready to be open about that fact.
While I quite agree that Bug is attractive, so far he has been shown to be sort of unpopular and odd – and really sort of cowardly and stupid as well. Bug doesn’t even think that Brittany knows he’s alive. So I find it sort of odd that she’s noticed him.
“No, of course not.”
“He’s a lunatic, Brittany,” Leah begins. “A brain bomb waiting to go off. His only real friend is [Alex] Dunkleman and Dunkleman just uses him as his monkey. He’s been in and out of institutions half his life. Bug has killed people. Wake up and smell the Starbucks.”
“You’re right. He’s pathetic.”
“Brandon’s the one for you, Britt. He’s a diamond. In the rough, I’ll admit, but a diamond just the same. By comparison, Bug is a lump of coal. Trust me on this. OK?”
“OK, Fang,” Brittany says resentfully, and she leaves.
There’s a lot going on here. We’ve got Leah’s virulent hate for Bug seeping through (especially the “Bug has killed people” part, which she later says was in reference to Adam and Leah Plenkov – aka who they could have been). We’ve got Leah possibly warning her friend Brittany off of Bug, truly believing that Bug is dangerous.
Leah shoots and kills Bug in one of the alternate endings, understanding that he has the Ripper in him now. (…I think) The supernatural element of it is never revealed to her like it is to Bug, which means she must have just known there was a supernatural element all along.
(I’m not even really going to go into the fact that out of all the people Bug could have a crush on, he has a crush on one of Leah’s friends.)
We’ve got Leah trying to keep Brittany available for Brandon, because Brandon’s interest in Brittany is what keeps him obedient to Leah. But we’ve also got Leah figuring out that Brittany is interested in her brother and then scaring her away from him, which could possibly be motivated by something else – a desire to hurt Bug, or a desire to keep him unattached. It would have been interesting to see how she handled Penelope, if Penelope had lived long enough. I wonder how much Leah has been controlling Bug’s life. We know she arranged for him to “kill the Ripper” (part of a ritual the seven do every midnight on their birthday), and he was too scared to do it, which resulted in some humiliation. It could easily be the case that she has kept him down his entire life.
I’m writing an original story (brother/sister incest, of course) where the popular sister uses her social capital to keep her brother unpopular, not yet consciously realizing that she wants him all to herself. So there could be something like that going on with Leah and Bug.
As for Bug’s reaction to all of this, it’s all over the place. When Leah says that he has killed people, he’s still reacting to being called Alex’s monkey. The biggest reaction shot we get from him is in response to when Brittany says, “You’re right, he’s pathetic.” But when he and Alex are done listening, Alex coaches him to say, “Thanks, Fang, that felt good”, and to not show her that she had hurt him. So the focus of that discussion was definitely on the fact that Fang had hurt him, and not on Brittany.
Bug just kind of stares at her when she brings out the present for him:Then, when he sees the rocking horse (which their father had made), May tells him to leave it and go up to his room, but he says, “Leah gave it to me,” and takes it up with him. Clearly the fact that it was a gift from her meant something, and he was also making an interesting show of solidarity with Leah against May.
May says to Leah, “How could you?” and Leah says, “Somebody’s got to bust his cherry.” She’s referring, of course, to telling him the truth – breaking his mind’s innocence. But the sexual connotation is there.
“You’re scared of being human,” May says to her a little later on in the argument, accusing her of hiding behind a variety of things because she’s too scared to move on. It’s easy to see that Leah doesn’t really let herself care about anything. Leah and May have a really ugly fight, then Leah storms upstairs. Bug wants to talk to her, and he puts his hand on her shoulder to stop her and she punches him, then goes into her room. “Why do you hate me, Leah?” Bug demands through her closed door. “I’ve never done anything to do you.”
I wonder if he’s asked her that before. I sure as hell would have.
She opens her door, comes back through it, and slams him against the wall. “You ruined my life, that’s what you’ve done, you little shit,” she says. (She’s really much too smart to be blaming him for anything. I mean, their mother didn’t even die in child birth. There is literally nothing to blame him for.) Then Leah slams him against the opposite wall of the hallway, and punches him again. Then she knees him a couple of times – in the stomach and the face. He doesn’t fight back.
“Why?” he asks, blood streaming down his face.
“Why? I will tell you why, maggot. From the moment you were born everything went to shit for me. You were the miracle baby and I was the painful reminder you got to live in this dream and I got stuck in a fucking nightmare. I am sick to death of your innocence. It is an insult to me,” she screams.
Bug grabs her foot as she tries to go back into her room. “Why am I innocent?”
“You are so clueless it is stunning,” she replies.
He stands. “Tell me!”
“Do you know who your father was?”
“May said that he loved us very much.”
“But who was he?”
“I don’t know. He died in a car crash.”
“On the way to the hospital to be with May when she was having you, right?”
“What a sad yet beautiful story. Have you ever asked yourself why May doesn’t ever talk about him or why there isn’t a single fucking picture of him around the house?”
“Do you know who Abel Plenkov was?”
“The Riverton Ripper?”
“Take a look in the mirror, Bug.”
She goes back into her room,and leans against the back of the door, just taking a minute. The calming exercise doesn’t really work, and she destroys her dollhouse, which, like the rocking horse, she had kept as a memory of their father. Bug listens, then knocks on her door asking to be let in. She opens the door, and he comes in with the rocking horses and smashes it, cursing. (He was shown earlier in the movie to prefer not to swear, like the innocent little boy he was.)
“There, we’re even,” he says.
Leah is a little shaken. She’s watching carefully to see what happens next.
Then he lifts up his shirt to wipe the blood off of his face and flashes his midriff, and a letter drops to the floor. A letter which Penelope had left in their mailbox for Bug, which Leah had then stolen and given to Brittany to open in a way that wouldn’t be detectable later, and which Bug had then found in Brittany’s purse, knowing from what Penelope said earlier that she had left him a note.
Leah asks him where he got it.
This is where the scene splits. In the theatrical version, he says, “There’s a revolution coming,” and then walks out. This is an echo of what Alex said earlier when he wanted to spy on Fang’s conversation. But there’s an extended version of the scene – DRAMATICALLY extended, which I am going to take as canon. I assume it was cut for length, because a lot of what is discussed is important, in my opinion. And it adds some necessary resolution to the whole Fang thing.
“I did no such thing,” she says, though I’m surprised she even bothered denying it. Considering the fact that she just beat him up, I wonder that she would care if he knew she took his letter. But perhaps she’s embarrassed about taking such an interest in his social life.
“It’s bad enough that you pay Brandon to assault people, but you’ve been running drugs from Chihuahua and selling them at school?” Bug accuses.
“Are you spying on me?” She seems a little amused, but also a little worried.
Leah does a very poor job of denying it. She herself doesn’t even know how much money – Bug does the math aloud for her. It’s impressive. (And almost certainly a result of his increased brainpower thanks the others that are inside of him already.)
“We’re talking about Fang here, Leah, we’re not talking about you,” he says, sort of giving her an out by allowing her to distance herself from those bad acts. I think it’s extremely interesting. I think it gives a glimpse of what their interactions might have been like before this fateful date. She was “Leah” at home, and while never nice, I’m sure they had reached a comfortable detente at home. “Fang” was someone who existed at school and in public.
“Just tell her I want a straight answer,” Bug adds.
Leah is willing to play along. She imitates going off to talk to Fang, and then comes back. So I guess everyone in this family has multiple personalities. It’s one thing that have a nickname and a public persona – this is obviously going a slight step above that.
“She says she will give you the truth if you give her immunity,” Leah says.
“Done,” Bug agrees.
“Was I in and out of institutions half my life?”
“Yeah. A bunch. May wanted you to get better, and it didn’t work out.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Do you really thnk you’re normal, Bug?”
“Not having night terrors and severe memory loss and claustrophobia, and migraines so bad you wake up in the middle of the night puking your guts out.”
“Everybody’s got something.”
“TBI isn’t just something. Traumatic brain injury. You suffered from hypoxemia, oxygen starvation to the brain.”
“The night you were born. You were trapped inside your mother’s dead body for too long before they cut you out of her.”
“May’s not dead.”
“May’s not your mother. She’s your mother’s sister. Your – our – mother was murdered the day you were born.”
“Did I kill people?”
“You killed us, Bug. You didn’t mean to, but we haven’t really been alive since the day you were born. Not as ourselves. Plenkov kids.”
She pulls out an envelope and hands it to him. “The mirror, Bug,” she says. “Take a look. It’s time.”
Leah shows further humanity when she finds out that Brittany has been murdered. She feels horrible because she knows that she treated her very poorly that day. (And on her birthday, too! For shame!)
The town covered up the Ripper’s getaway for their tourism business, though May agreed for Bug’s sake. Leah is disgusted by their hypocrisy (as fictional teenage girls are wont to be) and she won’t let May deny it anymore – the Ripper is alive and he’s hunting down the Seven. She says he’s going to kill the others, and then he’s going to come for her and Bug. “I can’t let that happen to Bug,” she says. Awwwwwwwwwwww. Somewhere deep inside of her is a protective older sister.
But Bug hides, making them think he has run off, and they head to the church.
Then he pulls out the envelope, which has an audio commentary from Leah telling him the truth, and a bunch of newspaper clippings.
Leah is hiding, she pulls Bug into the closet with her. She’s extremely tactile during this scene, pulling him into the closet, basically sticking her hand in his mouth and running her fingers all over his face to keep him quiet, (DO YOU SEE THAT GIF?) then hanging onto his shoulder. And when she thinks it’s safe and is about to walk out, he pushes her behind him.
At this point, all of the animosity is behind them. He says he’s going to give the Ripper a 10, and Leah tells him to make it a 20. Kind of stupid dialogue, but what’s important is that they’ve overcome Fang. They’re united now, against the Ripper.
He sends Leah next door to call the police when it’s clear and goes after the Ripper.
I have no idea what Bug’s mental state is like at the end of the movie. That’s something I felt was very unresolved. In his narration, he says that he has accepted that he lives in a house of blood. But that’s it, really. Leah is 19, but Bug is only 16. He has to live somewhere. One can imagine them living on their own, though if I were them I would get out of town. We know she’s got money, and a thriving drug/money laundering business. So I think they’ll be OK. Together. Fjfjkddkdkljd
You’ve probably noticed by now that at the end I always add something about the actors that I find while looking for images. This is no big deal, but in an interview with Emily Meade and Max, the interviewer asks what viewers have to look forward to in the movie, and Max talks about great characters and being scared and then Emily is just like, “Max is in the shower for a few minutes.” Same, Emily. Same.