Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

The horror franchise "reboot" trend is an understandable one.  Most horror franchises start with a low-budgeted surprise hit movie, and the sequels add gore and special effects, but never match the effect of the original movie or idea.  I totally get why movie producers would want to scrap all the continuity and baggage from years of lame sequels and try to start anew.  Friday the 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have all had reboots/reimaginings in the past few years, so breathing new life into Freddy Kreuger seemed inevitable.  Personally, I would have preferred the wish-it-would-but-never-gonna-happen Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash to have been made, but that's just me: a fan of awesomeness.

The story begins with Dean (Kellan Lutz) nodding asleep while at a diner.  He doesn't want to sleep because he is having some nasty nightmares, but we don't get much insight into them here.  When Dean's girlfriend, Kris (Katie Cassidy), arrives to meet him, Dean falls asleep once more; this time, it's fatal.  In the dream, Dean tries to protect himself with a knife from a shadowy, fedora-wearing, clawed-glove-wearing villain.  The villain turns the knife inward toward Dean and slowly pushes it toward his body.  In the real world, it looks like Dean's knife hand wants to kill him --- and succeeds.  He basically committed hari kari on his throat.  With Dean's death, a group of kids in town, start to admit to having the same nightmare; some guy with a hat and a clawed glove is forcing them to have bad dreams.  But bad dreams can't hurt anyone, right?  Well, I doubt this is your first exposure to Nightmare, but here goes anyway...SPOILER: They can.  And will.  Anyway, at Dean's funeral, Kris notices a picture of herself with Dean as preschoolers.  That's weird...they met for the first time in high school...or did they?  It turns out that all the kids who are having (and dying in) these dreams --- Nancy (Rooney Mara), Jesse (Thomas Dekker), and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) all went to the same preschool.  And, thanks to some detective work, they figure out that the mysterious dream figure is a man named Freddy Kreuger (Jackie Earle Haley).  But why is he hunting these kids?  And how?  For God's sake, I must know the origin of this supernatural phenomenon!

Actually, I don't need to know how Freddy attacks you in your dreams, but it is interesting that this film never even makes a half-assed attempt to explain that unusual course of events.  Really, there isn't even any explicit motivation given to Freddy, either.  Sure, they retell his origin, making it grimmer for today's jaded viewer, but there's never a "Freddy's going to kill me because ____".  I find that strange.  They just accept that Freddy is in their dreams and that he's trying to kill them.  Well, okay.  Maybe I'm just the curious type.  But, while I'm asking questions of motivation, why is Freddy attacking now?  It's been between ten and fourteen years since Freddy's had motivation.  What's with the delay?  We can't all be Jimmy John's fast, but that's a long time to hang out in dreams, not killing people.

Obviously, I have a few basic issues with the basic premise behind this movie.  Beyond the villain's motivation, how was this movie?  Pretty terrible, actually.  The movie starts with a kid being murdered in front of his friends and stays that cheery throughout.  These teens are, at no time, even remotely happy.  They're not even sarcastic, which is far more shocking than the happy thing.  With such a serious tone, the movie doesn't really have anywhere to go.  I'm not saying that horror movies need levity, but I need the actors to show a variety of emotions, if only to indicate that one scene is supposed to be scarier than another.  The big story when this movie was released was that the filmmakers had decided to make Freddy less of a hyena-laughing jackass and more of a killer.  I love that idea (the "Vegas Freddy" movies are pretty terrible), but the execution leaves something to be desired.  For some reason, Freddy still likes to laugh, but he doesn't make jokes.  He's not even being mean (aside from all the murdering) or a jerk, so his chuckles come off as very unnatural.  And, I'll be honest, I didn't think the realistic burn victim makeup did anything to enhance Freddy's menace.  There were moments where the recessed eyes and lack of facial definition made me think I was watching a muppet designed to teach children about fifth-degree burns.  So, the tone of the movie was too one-dimensional and the villain felt a little off.  What about the story?  Let me answer that question with a question: how much do you love back story?  If you answered anything less than "a crapload," then you're going to be annoyed.  The movie makes it seem like there is a mystery in Freddy's origin that will blow your mind when it comes to light, so the story spends a lot of time trying to develop that secret.  But the secret ends up that Freddy is a mean bastard that likes to kill people.  It's a little underwhelming, as far as secrets go, and the story is all about uncovering it.  Blech.

The acting was as good as it needed to be in a horror movie with this level of prominence.  The kids all look fairly young (they ranged from 22 to 25 years old), which is nice to see in a movie about high school kids, but that's probably the best thing I can say about them.  Every single character was one-dimensional and had no chances to develop; they're scared of death, then they're scared of sleeping and dying, and then they die --- it's not much of a dramatic arc.  I don't think any of them were overly terrible (except Kellan Lutz, whose line delivery is on par with that of a bored corpse), but the plot and dialogue make that hard to determine for sure.  I thought Aaron Yoo's uncredited cameo (which I didn't think people made, unless they were really famous) was some of the film's best acting, but that's not saying much.  As the film's resident adults, Clancy Brown and Connie Britton both had their talents wasted, with few scenes and less dialogue.  Jackie Earle Haley took over the Freddy Kreuger role that Robert Englund had played in seven movies.  His take on the character was, at times, pretty sinister; unfortunately, this movie delivers no actual scary moments (or even the startling ones), so I was pretty disappointed with the new, meaner Freddy.  This was the first feature film that Samuel Bayer directed, after a distinguished music video career that includes Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Blind Melon's No Rain, and all of Green Day's American Idiot videos.  Bayer can tell a story decently well, but if he can work with professional actors to get the right performances, the proof is not evident here.

Forget all that "acting" and "story" junk, what about the violence?  This is a horror movie, so the violence and nudity should help grade this movie on a curve.  As for nudity, there is none.  At all.  There's nothing remotely sexual about this movie.  So that's definitely different than most horror flicks, but not unheard of in the Nightmare series.  As for the violence, there are only three death scenes and one of them was a remake of the ceiling kill in the original movie.  There's nothing wrong with recycling a classic kill, but it looked as good now as it did then --- it just wasn't as scary, since I had seen that exact kill before.  The third kill (the first one was the one that opened the movie) was only decent, but I liked how Freddy taunted his victim; this was one of only two times where Freddy was intimidating at all.  A Nightmare On Elm Street has never been, as a series, about the body count.  I was surprised that a reboot wouldn't raise the number of corpses, but I was shocked by how visually boring these scenes were. There were maybe thirty dream sequences in the movie, and only two were even moderately cool or imaginative, and I'm pretty sure they lifted something from Silent Hill.  This movie even directly lifted two of the original film's best moments (Freddy's glove in the bathtub and Freddy's face in the wall), so the best parts of this movie were done exactly the same way twenty-five years ago!  So, let's recap: no nudity, mediocre (at best) kills, and no originality.  Even by horror standards, this movie sucked.

Man, the dream sequences pissed me off.  This is a movie where you get killed or chased or whatever in your dreams...but we don't ever see any of these kids dreaming.  Freddy doesn't interrupt them during a dream about being a spy or the Dos Equis guy or seducing that special someone --- they dream about being in a creepy industrial warehouse or boiler room or something.  Way to miss the boat, people.  You can dream anything, so these movie sequences could add all sorts of character insight, visual appeal, or extraordinary things that are not limited by realism.  Shouldn't the scary thing about Freddy be that he gets us in our dreams?  This is just dull writing, but you can't expect much when a first-time screenwriter is brought in to polish up the script from the writer of Doom.

Since this is a remake, and I have seen every Nightmare to date, I might as well address how it stacks up to the other movies.  Nightmare, unlike most other horror franchises, has always been tangled in its story continuity.  Does anyone really care about the details about Freddy's life and afterlife?  The answer is no.  We want to be frightened by something that we have no protection against, a monster that kills us in our sleep.  I liked that this movie tried to escape the convoluted story of the series, but they just introduced the least mysterious mystery I have ever seen in a horror movie, instead.  This movie doesn't capture the defenseless fear that makes the original film and Part 3 fun to watch, either.  Instead, it takes a more serious and boring path to its final destination, the bad movie pile.  It should feel right at home, though, since it's about as bad as the rest of the Nightmare series.

2 comments:

  1. Is it any surprise that three of the four reboots you mentioned (Friday, Nightmare, and Massacre) were the the work of mastermind producer Michael Bay and they all blew chunks?

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  2. It's not a surprise, no, and I was also aware of his attachment to those reboots. Michael Bay is a hack, but he definitely does not underestimate the stupidity of the American moviegoer. And I'm pretty okay with the Friday reboot. It was a typical silly slasher, but that was the goal, right?

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