Friday, April 30, 2010

An Evisceration On Elm Street

The most that I've ever asked out of Platinum Dunes' string of remakes is that the new film be at least a little better than the worst entry in the original series. It doesn't have to top the original - that would be setting the bar impossibly high both for them and for me - but I do think the remake has to edge out the worst of the sequels. Otherwise, what good is it? When you're only asking that a Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake be slightly better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) or that a Friday the 13th remake be just a marginal improvement over Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), I think that's like handing out an easy win. Most critics and fans are much, much harder on Platinum Dunes' filmography than myself but as a viewer, I'm easy. When I go to the movies, I'm looking to be entertained and to that end, I'll let a lot of things slide without complaint. Given that, when I tell you that I kind of hated the shit out of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, don't think that I went in with the mind to trash it.

The goal of returning Freddy to being a true figure of fear was - in principle - an admirable ambition on the part of the filmmakers. Unfortunately, A Nightmare on Elm Street '10 feels like the work of people who just don't know how horror movies work. For that matter, it also feels like the work of people who don't know how movies work. The first feature film from acclaimed music video director Samuel Bayer, this new Nightmare is completely inert. There's no suspense, no urgency, no dynamics between the actors, no sense that one scene should build on the last; it's a film made by someone too concerned with creating a look to bother with a story. This movie introduces the concept of "micro-naps," and let me tell you - I think a lot of viewers of this film will be forced to take macro-naps to get through its running time.

The script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer floats a couple of interesting concepts; the idea of casting some doubt on Freddy's guilt is intriguing and I liked the suggestion that perhaps only Nancy is able to bring Freddy out of the dream world. That does it for anything worthwhile not found in the original, though. The rest is just a sombulistic shuffle, shoehorning in lifeless recreations of moments from the first film - homages that only serve to do unnecessary damage to the remake. For example, when Freddy pushes against the wall over the bed that Nancy is lying on, causing the wall to stretch like rubber, even the most ardent defender of CGI will balk at how the practical approach of the original was abandoned. I guarantee you the same moment would've produced at least a minor cheer from audiences had they done it in the practical style of the original - just for the fact that it would have been neat to see them keeping it old-school, at least for that one famous shot. With the CGI, though, it looks like shit and - happening early in the film as it does - it automatically sours the mood.

Speaking of sour, what's up with kids these days? I don't know if actual teenagers are really this dour as a rule but the kids in this film are a miserable pack. Sure, they've got a lot to worry about, what with being stalked in their dreams and all, but how about showing some signs of personality? In the original film, all four of the main character were distinct and memorable (even the asshole, Rod, had a certain charisma thanks to Nick Corri's performance). As played by Heather Langenkamp, the original Nancy was a gutsy, resourceful, and quick-witted heroine. The new Nancy, as played by Rooney Mara, makes week-old road kill look like Robin Williams at his most manic. In the original, one of the most endearing scenes involved Nancy and Tina (Amanda Wyss) howling with laughter at the comically botched attempt of Glen (Johnny Depp) to fool his mother into thinking he's staying at his aunt's house by the airport. It was a moment that effortlessly convinced the audience that these were real kids, real friends, and it helped make it matter when Krueger starts to pick them off. In the remake, however, facial expressions involving too many muscles seem to be outlawed.

As for Freddy himself, while Jackie Earle Haley was an inspired choice to take over from Robert Englund, the script lets him down badly. The make-up doesn't do him any favors, either. The awkward look of Freddy in this film reminds me of the baffling revisions made to the Supermam costume in Superman Returns (2006) in which they inexplicably couldn't even get the 'S' chest emblem right. Of course, Haley's Freddy couldn't have looked exactly like Englund's, no matter what, but putting aside the fact that the two actors have different facial structures, couldn't they at least have not given Haley such stupid cat eyes? It's distracting - every time there was a close-up of him, I kept wondering if I put fresh litter in before I left the house.

Whatever mistakes the original series may have been guilty of, the irrepressible gusto of Englund's performance and the inventiveness of the practical FX set-pieces (who can forget the Kafka-esque transformation of Debbie in The Dream Master?) always made those films work. The remake, however, has neither a memorable Freddy or any standout set-pieces to offer. It has no clue about being either fun or scary. The best anyone could possibly say about this trip to Elm Street is that it resides resolutely in the middle of the road.

13 comments:

Will Errickson said...

"This movie introduces the concept of 'micro-naps...'"

I beg to differ. I believe Kramer utilized this concept on SEINFELD-- And even he got it from Leonardo da Vinci!

Ugh, what a bummer. Shame, I had high hopes for Haley as Krueger.

J.D. said...

Excellent review! I had a sneaking suspicion that this new film would play out like you mentioned in your post. Can someone stop Michael Bay before he trashes anymore beloved horror films from the 1980s? It was bad enough what he did to the poor TRANSFORMERS. Sheesh!

Jeff Allard said...

The good news is that Bay has already plundered the '80s of almost all its major horror icons! Unfortunately, his company is now planning to remake The Monster Squad! I see that as a bad choice from a commercial standpoint as - unlike titles such as Nightmare, or Friday the 13th which have widespread recognition outside of horror circles - I think the only people will care about that remake are the fans and they might choose to boycott it altogether.

Dolewhite said...

Sheesh. Seeing as outside of a very few films, we have pretty similar taste, and I too am a pretty forgiving horror fan so to hear this from you is a bummer. I'll still be catching it soon hopefully, but my fear is I will be greatly let down.

Great review, and you hit on something with the comparison of teen characters now and back then.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, I think even people who like the new film will have to admit that the kids in this movie are completely devoid of personality. To me, Platinum Dunes blew a great opportunity to relaunch the franchise. I really think that shutting Wes Craven out of this was a huge (and arrogant) mistake. He produced two great remakes of his earlier films - Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left. I would think that'd be enough to make it worth Platinum Dunes' while to get him on board with this. Apparently not. Oh well, their call. We'll see how this does. Maybe people will really dig it. I have a feeling that for the most part that won't be the case, though.

Planet of Terror said...

This line made me laugh out loud: 'I kept wondering if I put fresh litter in before I left the house.' Well played sir.

I'm catching this tomorrow. If its as bad as everyone says it is, it will be the last time I ever fork over some coin via the theater for a Platinum Dunes release. Major bummer about the lack of quality set pieces. That's what made the original. Even in the most craptastically constructed sequels they still had interesting ones. For shame.

kindertrauma said...

Jeff, I could not agree with you more. I could have forgiven it's general ineptness if was just fun for ONE second. It's just a lifeless chore of a movie.-Unk

Jeff Allard said...

PoT, I hope you'll be going to the cheap matinee for this. And even then, you'll feel like you overpaid.

Unk, I just read your own take on the new Nightmare and, yes, we're totally in synch on this one!

Pax Romano said...

Anyone who saw this dreadful remake deserves to have a drink with Marge Thompson - go on, you earned it.

Excellent review.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks, Pax!

Mike Snoonian said...

The most damning thing you can say about a horror film is that it's boring, and unfortunately, that's the word that sums up the new Elm Street. The PD remakes have been more crap than crapshot.

It's a shame, because this really should've been knocked out of the park.

Bob Ignizio said...

I liked Haley's Freddy, but you're right, the script lets him down. As for the new Nancy... they should have called her "mumbles". I guess she's some Hollywood idea of what "misfit" kids are like.

The idea that Freddy might actually have been innocent of his original crimes could have made this interesting. The whole McMartin "Satanic abuse" case is a fascinating bit of recent American history that a lot of people still don't know about beyond the initial accusations, and using that as a starting point for even a fictional movie could have been interesting. Sadly, this new 'Elm St.' didn't have the courage to go that route.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, in considering this movie it makes me wonder how a film that gets almost everything wrong gets made. Is it stupidity on the part of the filmmakers? Or is it just arrogance that prevents them from seeing how off the mark they are? Either way, it amazes and depresses me how much time and money is spent on making something so empty and unfulfilling.