Friday, May 14, 2010

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Metafilms are, almost by definition, kind of obnoxious.  Any time a movie is about the making of a movie, you know that the filmmakers are trying to be overly clever.  Usually, this requires a great script and director (see Adaptation).  Wes Craven, the writer and director of New Nightmare, is neither.  Don't get me wrong, I like the guy; I don't think anyone can make a convincing argument that his entries in the A Nightmare On Elm Street series are not the best of the bunch.  This movie, though, tries something new and doesn't quite pull it off.

Ostensibly, this move takes place in the "real world."  The actors (at least, all the Nightmare veterans) all play themselves.  Freddy Kreuger is not a creature of dream, but a character created by Craven and played on the screen by Robert Englund.  Heather Langenkamp is the primary character, but John Saxon, Tuesday Knight, and many other actors and producers from the series have small roles.  Essentially, Freddy Kreuger is trying to leave the realm of fiction and enter reality.  Something is different with Freddy, though; this is not the clownish "Vegas Freddy" of the past few movie installments.  This Freddy is meaner, with claws that appear to be a part of his body.  Wes Craven (the character) theorizes that this new Freddy is actually an evil dream entity that the masses have equated with Freddy Kreuger.  Since that is how the world sees this entity, it has assumed the guise of the Freddy character.  Craven believes that the only way to keep the entity at bay is to use art (in this case, a movie) to express the violence and evil that it wants to perform.  This will temporarily sate the entity's lust for carnage, until another movie can be made to keep the entity trapped in fiction.

No, really.  That's the plot.  If there's one thing I can safely say about this movie, it is that it does not insult the audience's intelligence...just their suspension of disbelief.

One of the downsides to making a Nightmare movie featuring the actors from past Nightmares is that those actors were never very good.  It doesn't matter that Heather Langenkamp is playing herself, she is still an awkward actress.  That's far more enjoyable to watch than Wes Craven's struggle to convey an emotion beyond "vaguely tired."  I've seen him in interviews, so I know a little about him...let me tell you, I have never seen somebody struggle so much to convincingly play themselves in a movie.  While this may sound strange to those unfamiliar with the Nightmare series, Robert Englund is clearly the best actor in the film.  He is the only actor that seems comfortable playing himself and he delivers as both the buffoonish Freddy and the new, improved "Super Shredder"-esque Freddy.

This is the seventh installment in the A Nightmare On Elm Street series.  By this point, Freddy had already done pretty much everything he could do.  He succeeded in killing all the children of those who lynched him, he became a dream demon, he he expanded his audience from the Elm Street kids to all kids, and he had been (allegedly) definitively killed.  I get it.  The series needed new life.  This, though, feels more like a homage than a horror movie.  Most of the kills (while done pretty well) are direct references to the more famous Nightmare scenes.  The plot tries to be grounded in reality but must come up with overly complicated justifications for key plot points at the same time.  I admire Craven's attempt, but it just doesn't quite work here; the effort paid off better when Craven fine-tuned this concept in Scream.  The big problem with this movie isn't the metafilm plot, though; the problem is that the previous movies were not good enough to support a clever (if flawed) metafictional homage to them.

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