Sunday, February 15, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

I've been waiting a long time to see Jason go on a proper rampage again and thankfully, the new reboot of Friday the 13th courtesy of Platinum Dunes and director Marcus Nispel did not disappoint. By the time the title Friday the 13th came on screen after a lengthy opening and an already robust body count, I felt satisfied that I had seen everything I had come to see - the rest of the film after that was just gravy. Call me a satisfied customer.

Of course, because this is a remake there's inevitably been a few gripes over the internet concerning the inherent wrongness of this film and the many ways in which it's ruined lives. Reading some of the online criticism, I wish that these complaints were meant to be tongue-in-cheek but clearly some people are upset. Maybe if these people were more familiar with the Friday the 13th series, they would calm down. I know they claim to be fans, but I wonder how that's possible.

For instance, would a fan try to complain about the one-dimensional characters in this movie? I'd think they'd know better than that. To slam Friday '09 on the grounds that its characters were ciphers who didn't really engender the proper amount of interest or sympathy is a curious thing to bitch about. Are the kids in this new movie so much less riveting than the likes of Paul Krata, Lawrence Monoson or Tiffany Helm? To my eyes, no. In fact, I think this sports a more winning cast than most of the films in the series. I particularly liked Travis Van Winkle as the movie's major asshole, Trent (at one point he gives a bitch scream for the ages). I also liked Aaron Yoo as Chewie, who fills his obligatory minority spot in the film with humorous aplomb. And Jared Padalecki (already an old hand at genre fare thanks to roles in Cry_Wolf, House of Wax and TV's Supernatural) makes an appealing lead as the concerned character of Clay. In a Friday first, I actually felt a glimmer of wanting Clay to succeed against Jason, which I count as an accomplishment on Padalecki's part. As for the ladies here, they're fine. I wish there'd been an actress as vivid as Part 2's Amy Steel here but I've been waiting twenty-eight years to be as taken with a Final Girl in a Friday movie as I was with Steel so I can't hold that against this film.

Something else I can't hold against it is the fact that its story isn't all that profound. To my surprise, I've read complaints that the story concocted by writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (of Freddy vs. Jason fame) is 'nonsensical'. I wouldn't think that anyone familiar with the previous eleven films (ten, if you don't count Freddy vs. Jason) would consider it an issue that a Friday the 13th was nonsensical but apparently I'd be wrong. Personally, I thought it was understood that Friday the 13th has never made sense (something that hasn't stopped it from being enjoyable). Tom Savini opted not to do Part 2 because he rightfully thought it was stupid that Jason, a figure that was only supposed to be a figment of Alice's nightmare, was now the main killer. So to single out this reboot as being 'nonsensical' is laughable - as though no one's intelligence had ever been insulted by a Friday the 13th film until the folks at Platinum Dunes got a hold of the property! Seriously, Jason is killing kids in the woods here. Like the other movies where Jason is killing kids in the woods. And just slightly different than the ones where he kills them on a cruise ship, in Manhattan, and in space. Sorry to anyone who's let themselves be misled as to what to expect. In fairness to the filmmakers, the title Friday the 13th was a pretty fair heads-up. No one's ever acted confused about this shit until now.

I'm also stunned that anyone would bitch that the new kills aren't up to Friday standards. Is every single one an iconic Friday kill? No, but going back to the first movie, in every Friday there's always a couple of kills that are outstanding (the arrow-through-the-neck, the decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees) and the rest are just all right (Ned, Brenda, Steve Christy and Bill all die off-camera). I mean, Mark getting the machete to the face and then having his wheelchair tumble backwards down a flight of stairs in Part 2 was classic but then in the same film there's the hot skinny-dipper who just sees a dude hanging upside down with his throat slit, then turns to the camera and screams. End of scene. If the remake pulled a punk move like that, everyone would be crying foul about how the filmmakers had botched an opportunity. And what about the last we see of Tommy and Trish's mother in The Final Chapter? She gasps at something off-camera and that's it. I could go down the line through every Friday and point to examples of where the filmmakers didn't go the extra mile but if I did, I worry that it might make me look at little nutty. Suffice it to say, anyone who complains about the kills in this movie is suffering from false memories about what the other films are actually like. At least every character dies on camera here, which is a rarity in the series (possibly a historic first).

With kills that run the gamut from shockingly sadistic, to morbidly funny, to kills that are more hands-on (where Derek Mears' ferocious portrayal of Jason really stands out - this guy's already a front-runner as Best Jason Ever), Friday the 13th '09 acquits itself just fine in the mayhem department.

Further down the line of complaints, some say that Jason's iconic hockey mask is given too casual of an introduction. But as one of my fears for this movie was that the producers would feel they had to come up with some dipshit backstory to 'explain' the mask, I feel relieved at how they handled it. I was dreading we'd have to learn about how hockey was Jason's favorite sport and that he used to skate on Crystal Lake in the winter or some epic lameness like that. I mean, unless you're going to go that route (and thank God that didn't happen here), the only other way to bring the hockey mask in is just to do it. In Part 3 he gets it with no special fanfare so why look for something bigger here? At least the remake has him come across it in a barn, which is a nod to the fact that he originally got the mask after killing Shelly in a barn so for what it's worth there's some acknowledgement of the series' history there.

As for the other controversies this film has incurred among fans - like why did they make Jason into a pot farmer, how can Jason be an expert marksman with a bow and arrow, why does he utilize a network of tunnels, and since when does he keeps prisoners in his basement - all of that seems pretty easy to deal with. First, Jason isn't a pot farmer. There's just weed growing on his land. And he likes to kill anyone who trespasses. I like to think of the weed as nature's way of bringing a certain type into Jason's domain. Jason's handiness with a bow and arrow isn't an issue, either. After all, someone who lives off the land and hunts for their food would have to be accomplished as a marksman (as Ginny said in Part 2: "Let's think beyond the legend and put it in real terms.") and it's not as though Jason hasn't always shown an aptitude for weapons. Jason having tunnels to travel through is also fine with me. It doesn't seem any more outrageous than other elements the series has asked us to go along with. I mean, really. If he had installed some kind of subway system or rocket sled, that'd be worth calling bullshit over but tunnels on their own is acceptable. And while keeping a girl alive in his basement may not be something we've seen Jason do before, as this girl reminds him of his mother I don't feel like it violates his character to not kill her. Jason has always shown a weakness for his mother. The slightest hint of her image is the one thing that can transfix him. And ultimately, we have to keep in mind that this is a reboot of Jason rather than a continuation of the original series so if he handles things a little differently, that's why.

I'd never try to call this a great film but I'd be a hypocrite if I called it out for having the same flaws as every other Friday. From the beginning, these films have always been aimed at a crowd who is largely undiscriminating when it comes to horror. Like many Gen-Xers, I love the series because I started watching it at the right age but as I've gotten older and my tastes have broadened, I still appreciate the Friday the 13th movies for what they are and for having encouraged my interest in the genre. To criticize this as representing a 'dumbing down' of horror is to ignore the fact that the original films were accused of the exact same crime. Friday the 13th '09 isn't a work that'll elevate the Art of Horror like, say, Let The Right One In. It's about watching Jason bury his machete in a few skulls - but that's a valid part of the genre experience, too.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


Vince Liaguno said...

I think the criticism that's leveled at the film needs to be taken in context with the fact that the audience that loves these movies has aged along with them. What flew back when we were kids doesn't necessarily hold the same appeal now. While I think the basic love of the slasher formula is still there and able to be tapped, I think these remakes and reimaginings need to acknowledge the growth in their audience and offer up the slasher, version 2.0, that holds true to the formula while offering up something new/revised/expanded.

What I think I disliked most about this film is the fact that Nispel and company offer fans of the original (you know, the fans whose support over the years made this remake possible in the first place) no little winks or nods. There is absolutely no acknolwedgement of the original audience, save for Richard Burgi's character being named after Crystal Lake Memories author Peter Bracke. Like I said in my own review over at Fear Zone, there were countless actors assembled for the His Name Was Jason documentary, and no one thought to tap one of them for a cameo? There were so many missed opportunities to create another Friday experience while paying homage to the original film. There is no FUN in this movie, which is what made the original franchise so memorable in the first place. This could have easily been just another entry in the franchise (Friday the 13th, Part 12: Return to Crystal Lake), but it was instead pitched and marketed as a quasi-remake, re-launch of the franchise. When you choose that path, there is simply a different set of expectations attached.

Jeff Allard said...

Well, the original audience for Friday the 13th has certainly aged. The kids who first watched them in the theaters or on home video are now - choke! - in their thirties or forties. This film, however, is not supposed to be catering to that audience. I'm among that audience and I don't want this new movie to cater to me. These are movies for a young crowd. They always have been and they always should be. I'm hanging onto my love of these movies strictly out of nostalgia. If I had seen the original films at the age I am now, I'd have dismissed them for what they are - junk made for kids. Encountering them when I did as a young genre fan at a formative age gave them an importance in my life that was out of proportion to their actual cinematic value.

This new film is made for an audience that was not even born when the original film was released. The people who made it owe us older fans nothing. The original audience should be past this by now. If we're pushing forty or more and still hanging on to our love of Jason Voorhees, a guy in a hockey mask who kills stoned teenagers, that's our problem. I have the original films on DVD and can watch them whenever I please - no new entry in the series is going to match the appeal of those films for me.

As for whether this movie was fun or not, well, everyone has their own idea of fun. In another twenty or thirty years, the kids who encountered Jason for the first time with this film can grouse about how the new movie got it all wrong.

Vince Liaguno said...

I'm among that audience and I don't want this new movie to cater to me. These are movies for a young crowd. They always have been and they always should be.

Simple question is: why?

Distributor Warner Bros.' exit polling showed an audience composition of 51% male and 59% who were 25 years and older. These movies may be made for a teen crowd, but nearly 60% of the opening weekend crowd that went to see it wasn't. That says something about these filmmakers making broad assumptions about their target audience and not realizing that nostalgia (done right) sells.

I agree with you that the nostalgia aspect of these films makes them what they are to us today. That said, though, I fail to understand why a slasher can't be nostalgic and appeal to a younger audience coming up through the horror ranks at the same time. Case in point, Halloween: H20. Perfect example of how someone understood the source material, the enduring (nostalgic) appeal of the original, and the horror genre as a whole. That film not only catered to the young, but also those who saw the original in that 30-40 demographic, AND even managed a wink or two toward the my father's Psycho generation. And it sold.

I don't see appealing to one generation as exclusive from appealing to another. Why not appeal to both? Or several? It can, and has, been done.

Jeff Allard said...

I think that Halloween and Friday the 13th, while both being slasher movie icons, are apples and oranges as far as franchises go. Halloween is more of an ongoing saga about the larger story of Michael and Laurie Strode (and the continuing characters that carried Parts IV-VI), almost like a soap opera, whereas Friday has - with the rare exception of Tommy - been about a revolving roster of teens.

As for why a film can't appeal to multiple generations, it can but when you do that I think you're going to end up with something that feels like it's trying to appease too many people (as I feel H2O did). As you say, H2O sold, but this film is selling better
(and the success of Rob Zombie's Halloween should be considered as well - definitely a film that many older fans took as a slap in the face).

For myself, I liked this new Friday quite a bit as did the other fans my age who I've talked to. So it didn't alienate everybody to play to a younger set. It'd be nice if it were possible to please everyone but that seldom happens.

Wings1295 said...

GREAT post! I think you hit this particular nail right smack on the head. It is, for better or worse, a Friday the 13th film. It really doesn't do anything differently than other flicks in this series, and in fact does some things better.

I definitely think this movie will grow in people's opinions. Maybe the first "shock" of it was too much, but over time it will be seen as much better than many of the other entries in the "F13" saga.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks, Wings. Yeah, I think this'll be a little better regarded in time - but then again, that's the same for almost any genre movie. I do think, though, that what this movie did right out weighed what it did wrong. And I believe that if this same movie had come out in the late '80s, most fans would've prefered it to the Friday sequels of the time.

In any case, when they do the sequel, they've got to get Derek Mears back - even those who didn't care for this agree that he rocked as Jason.

Ivan said...

I still haven't seen the original Friday the 13th (it's on my Netflix list, I swear), but your essay will make me rent the remake at least. It sounds like a good sixpack flick.

kindertrauma said...

Oh Jeff, Great post, but can you believe that the day has finally come in which I disagree with you? I was really disappointed by F13! The thing is, I did enjoy the TCM remake, I loved the recent MBV remake and I am even so damn kooky that I adored the dreaded Zombie Halloween remake, so it's not like I went to F13 with a chip on my shoulder and waiting to be outraged. For myself, I really needed more time spent on Pamela Voorhees and the original slaughter. Why could that not have filled the entire pre-credits section? They could have done it all in the same 20 minutes and done it in a way that would not have bored newbies a bit. It's kind of the spine of the legend and deserves more than a mere tap. It broke my heart to see the character of Alice degraded to "camp counselor" in the closing credits. I know that's me being a horror nerd, but I really think they underestimated the power of the original story. In fact, considering that they were going to utilize Jason's mother fixation as a way of conquering him in the end it would have been in their best interest to flesh that stuff out more. This remake is slick and more artful than most of the original series, but it just seemed so heartless too. They had four films to draw from, more if they wanted, and they couldn't pilfer something more out of them? I feel like they were more interested in repeating TCM's success (which they did $$$) than making the ultimate F13 movie that they should have. This movie would probably have been fine as the sequel to the one they should have made in the first place, but I want to see that movie instead! Of course I will buy the uncut DVD and try to force myself to like it , eventually maybe when I'm 70, I'll look back on it fondly as one of the earlier, better ones but until then, I feel slighted. Anyway that's just me. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as you did and I wish I could say the same. I don't think It was a travesty or anything, it just a missed the (capsized) boat. P.S. is the sequel is entitled "FRIDAY THE 13th: The Beginning" I'm on board yet again.-UNK L

Jeff Allard said...

Ha, that's ok Unk - it was bound to happen eventually! Maybe I'm just an easy mark when it comes to F13! I agree with you on the fact that they truncated the original story too much. I also would've prefered that the original story been stretched out to fill the pre-credit sequence with the decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees being a bigger 'climactic' moment. But as you say, that might be the horror geek in us talking. And the pre-credit sequence that they did come up with was pretty rousing in its own right.

In the end, all I can say is that I had a good time with this. Is it the best Friday film I could've imagined? Not by a longshot but it's much better than many of the other films in the series, in my opinion.

Bob Ignizio said...

I gotta' say, this one really didn't do it for me. I didn't hate it, but it definitely wasn't as much fun as the 'My Bloody Valentine' remake. I think the biggest difference between the two was 'MBV' felt like it was made by a horror fan for horror fans, and this one felt like it was made by dilettantes trying to copy and "improve" on a formula. In short, as I think someone else commented, it just wasn't that much fun.

And that's also why I'd disagree with you about the kills. They may have been every bit if not more graphic, but the way they were presented just didn't work for me. Ditto for the nudity, which always felt kind of "naughty" in the old 'Friday' flicks, but here felt almost sleazy.

In the end, I do think that the average person going to see this will probably get what they wanted. For me it was just "eh". Better than some of the later, overly gimmicky entries, but it nothing I'm going to want to watch again.

Jeff Allard said...

Hey Bob,
I'm with you on liking MBV 3-D more than this. I do think that the folks behind MBV are probably more genuine horror buffs than the Platinum Dunes people but it's not as though Friday the 13th has ever fallen into the hands of real fans respectful of what the horror crowd wants. If it had, the series wouldn't have had the issues that it's had with quality control.

Just by dispensing with the gimmicks, though, this ranks higher in the series than other entries for me. As for the inevitable sequel, if PD got MBV director Patrick Lussier to step in rather than their usual go-to people like Nispel or Jonathan Liebesman, that would be a movie I'd really like to see.

Cheap Beer said...

I caught lots of winks and nods to the original audience. I thought it fit in nicely with the other films and was sporting the best Jason yet. I think people expecting a perfect version of a Friday flick are disapointed.