Movies: Finding The Gothic in “My Soul to Take”

I’m not a big hack and slash horror fan.  Even growing up in the 80’s with Michael Meyers, and Jason and Freddie, I never really bought into the teenage angst horror movies.  I have always preferred the more Terror oriented flicks (and stories) that draw on Gothic themes, like House on Haunted Hill, or The Shining and such.  I always wait for the next Wolfman movie or Vampire flick or Frankenstein adaptation like a kid waiting for a chocolate bar.  But, it seems that hacking up teeny-boppers will never grow old, and I am trying to convince myself that I must find the good in them—learn to appreciate them, if you will.  And, it’s really hard.

Scene from My Soul to Take.

And so, with that in mind, I gathered my willpower and headed out to watch My Soul to Take last night.  Now this movie is directed by Wes Craven so I had some idea what to expect.  And I’ll start off by saying that it was not produced to be a Gothic Tale, so my discussion is really about trying to find elements of The Gothic in the flick, because thats what I do.  I’m not going to critique the movie, other than to say that there was little that I could find in the way of Gothic Themes.  It was a movie that was designed more to Horrify (I think) than to Terrify.

Supernatural Monster: Not sure here really if the main bad guy was supernatural or not. Supposedly, there is some curse (at least that’s what the oddly-placed woman whose mom practiced voodoo said) that dooms the soul of the killer to never die and to keep finding new bodies to inhabit. But, the explanation is shallow and you never really get the feeling that you’re dealing with something of any “otherness.” So yeah…I’ll give it credit for a tiny feeling of The Gothic, but its weak.

Evil Father Figure (A stretch here): In much of The Gothic, there is a dark father figure. Whether Dracula or Frankenstein (or a whole bunch of the rest of The Gothic), there is a demonic (or otherwise flawed) father figure that must be overcome and defeated by the protagonist (wether by facing his own demons or by physically confronting and destroying).  In this movie there is a demonic, and suitably dark father figure, but he never really materializes as a major player in the drama.  There is no real conflict with the figure, nor any struggle to overcome his / her control over the protagonist in any real sense.  This theme had promise early on, but fizzled and died by the end.

The Dark and eerie woods and the supposed feeling of the Sublime that comes with this natural wonder: That was a mouthful.  The woods, and nature’s majesty in the woods, was likely the Theme that came across as the most Gothic. It is still somewhat of a stretch. Dark Woods. Nature (the river) seen as some supernatural cell that kept the drowned soul of this killer alive, and their strange altar to the river and the woods, meant to keep him silent.  Like the roach motel, kids go into the woods and they don’t come out.  But still, you never really got the overwhelming feeling of the Sublime that the majesty and awesomeness of nature is supposed to portray in The Gothic. In Gothic, the natual setting servers to heighten the sensation, to inspire and maginify the terrors felt by the characters.  But, the woods in this story seemed more a place to hide the bodies, or fr the killer to do his business in seclusion, which has the desired effect in a thriller, but is not so Gothic as it could have been.

There was no message in this movie—at least none that I could recognize as Gothic—except a who-dunnit designed to keep the audience guessing. There was no story of Virtue /Whore, though there was a small bit of “boy saves the day,” when even the powerful older teen girl character cannot.  There was no message of Decay or encroaching horror from a decadent past. This was a story built around the blood on the blade of a knife.  There was very little that was deeper than that, nor (in its defense) was it designed to be any deeper than that.

It was kind of fun, I suppose (More so, I’m sure, if I were 17), but it wasn’t Gothic in the least. 

I’ll keep a lantern lit.  See you next time.

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