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Review: MY SOUL TO KEEP (2018)

Plenty of kids have been convinced that something evil lurks in the basement of the family home. In My Soul to Keep, (not to be confused with Soul To Keep), there actually is something in the basement. And when his family leaves him alone one night, nine-year-old Eli (Parker Smerek) has to stop it from stealing his soul.

Director Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad (Jinn) and co-writer Justin Hynous have taken on the challenge of making a horror movie for kids that’s actually scary. And for the most part, they’ve crafted a film that will scare younger viewers without boring their parents. Not an easy task considering how much they couldn’t put in the film.

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Eli’s father (Brandon Matthew Layne) has made the mistake of telling his older sister Emily (Emmanuelle Turco) about the creature his older brothers convinced him lived in the family house. She, in turn, has terrified her little brother with it. Convincing him, it lives in the basement and wants to take his soul.

And when Emily skips out on babysitting him, and he left alone, he’ll find out just how right he was. And he’ll have to use everything at his disposal to survive.

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My Soul To Keep surprised me more than once. The trailer looked good, but I had my doubts about a family-friendly horror film. I’ve frequently defended PG-13 horror, but this was going a lot further. And would the filmmakers hold back on the scares given the focus on kids?

I shouldn’t have worried. My Soul To Keep uses very tight writing and creativity to build its tension and deliver its scares. In many ways, it was like watching one of the better genre films from the 40s or 50s. It manages to be genuinely creepy while avoiding what could be considered questionable subject matter. Not that one of those films would put a kid through some of what Eli has to face, but that’s the general tone.

Along with the writing, the acting really helps sell the film. Smerek is alone for most of the film’s last act and delivers a fine performance. There’s also great chemistry between Eli and his friends Sam (Remington Gielniak) and Hillary (Arielle Olkhovsky, The Dark Below). My Soul To Keep also manages to make the parents seem like actual, decent people, not the caricatures we so often see in films.

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The special effects are mostly CGI, but it’s used smartly and to good effect. Frequently we see what looks like smoke or shadows creeping about. It’s atmospheric and effective, as well as budget-conscious.

My Soul To Keep is a kids film that I’m not ashamed to say made me jump. It doesn’t play down to kids, either. It’s a scary movie, and it delivers those scares as well as an ending I didn’t see coming. And while there isn’t a post-credits scene, there is a little bit of play with the last of the credits that suggest there may be a sequel. I’d be happy to see that.

My Soul To Keep will be released to theatres and VOD Oct 4th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for details.

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