My Soul to Take (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Abel (Raúl Esparza) suffered from dissociative identity disorder (DID). On the night seven children were born, he learned that one of his personalities was the serial killer that prowled the streets of Riverton. This caused a break in his mind and it allowed the personality to take over and kill his family. Luckily, the police (Frank Grillo, Danai Gurira) arrived just in time before he had a chance to murder his three-year-old daughter. Before his death, he promised that he would return and claim the children who were born the night he died. Exactly sixteen years later, the seven teens, collectively known as the Riverton Seven (Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olszynski, and Jeremy Chu), started to die in the hands of a murderer. There were three people worthy of suspicion: Bug (Thieriot) who seemed to be experiencing a psychotic break similar to what happened to Abel on the night he died, Abel’s daughter nicknamed Fang (Emily Meade) who ruled the high school, and the physical manifestation of Abel himself. Written and directed by Wes Craven, “My Soul to Take” was a post-modern horror hybrid of slasher flick and ghost story. In general, I enjoyed it because Craven had an interesting take on the genre. However, the more I pondered about the film, the more I felt disappointed because it failed to explore several important components in order for us to feel like we were actually in the increasingly paranoid Riverton. Craven managed to accomplish this difficult feat in “Scream” as the Woodsboro murders started to unfold. There was no reason why he couldn’t pull it off here. The film spent too much on time on the teenagers as some of them bullied Bug. Didn’t they have anything better to do like, oh, I don’t know, maybe do their homework or worry about the SATs? As for those who Bug considered to be his friends, they either had some sort of handicap, emotional or physical, or was a religious fanatic. It was amusing, which I’m sure was the point, but it took away considerable amount of time that could have been spent placing us from the detectives’ point of views, the same duo who encountered Abel all those years ago. One believed in science but the other offered another explanation. The latter claimed that in her culture, people with multiple personality disorders didn’t have multiple personalities. Rather, they had multiple souls. It was a fascinating perspective and we could surmise that maybe Abel’s “souls” were transfered to the newborns after his death. After all, in some documented form of DIDs, the personalities were at war. The film had many ideas and there were a handful of implications if one were to look closely. But the closer I looked, the more I was convinced that the story and script lacked focus. Instead of working synergistically, they seemed to derail each other. One glaring mistake was the confusion between DID and schizophrenia. One can blame it on nothing else but ignorance.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a true story, “Sybil” is about a woman (Sally Field) who has dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and how her psychiatrist (Joanne Woodward) helps her by digging up the past and confronting her inner demons. Having some sort of a background in psychology, I knew what to look for to see if what was really being portrayed on screen was DID. I have to say that it was spot-on: from when it was triggered by certain objects that reminded her of her abusive mother, to when her condition got worse to the point where it started to ruin her life, up until she finally finds some sort of a resolution (but not a cure). Field was tremendous in this film. I was so impressed whenever she would switch from one personality to the next; I completely forgot that she was just playing a character. While the acting was obviously emotionally draining, it must have been physically draining as well because of the very physical counseling sessions when she was required to move around in order to portray how conflicted Sybil was. Woodward also deserved recognition because I immediately felt like she was the kind of person that Sybil would eventually trust since she was very nurturing and accepting. There was not one moment where I thought she would give up and that was important to me because it meant that she was willing to follow through with her patient’s condition. I also liked the romantic angle between Field and the late Brad Davis. It was so sad because Davis fell for a personality (though some may argue he really did fall for Sybil) and Sybil was pretty much scared of human contact due to her traumatic past. That was scene in the subway with Davis and Field was strangely romantic even though something felt wrong about the whole thing. I mention all these people to highlight the fact that the film focused on Sybil and her relationship with others. Instead of telling a story of a mental disorder, the picture was about a person who happened to have a mental disorder in its core. And that subtelty is crucial because people find it difficult to separate the person from the disease or condition. To me, that message had a true resonance because of the sensitivity of issues that come with mental illnesses. As for the scenes regarding the abuse, even though it did not show blood and guts, I still thought it was pretty graphic, not just with the film’s consistent sinister tone, but also the tools that were shown and what the mother did to Sybil during the flashback scenes. Watching those scenes made me really angry because I was reminded that such things still do happen and the abused children will most likely have psychological problems in their futures. Ultimately, I think this is one of those films that will stick with me for a very long time because of how faithful it was with reality. It goes to show that even though the mind can be a very powerful coping mechanism, if pushed hard enough and again and again, it can break into pieces and may cause irreversible devastation toward both the owner and that person’s inner circle.