Monday, May 3, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Having recently viewed and been disappointed by the original Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), I went into the remake thinking Wes Craven’s brain-child was an excellent candidate for a cinematic reawakening. The effects would be updated, the actors could be upgraded and the story – which suffered several missteps in the execution of a truly great concept about a psycho who kills you in your sleep – could be smoothed out and perfected in the second going. The folks at Michael Bay’s remake factory, Platinum Dunes, made several strides in each of those keys directions when producing the new Nightmare. But their end product takes a massive step back in the wrong direction.
Directed by music video Hall-of-Famer Samuel Bayer (the man behind that grungie golden hue for the Nightmarish high school setting for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), A Nightmare on Elm Street is visually very cool. Bayer takes several cues from the Craven rendition, re-working the famous blood-soaked ceiling and recreating a key character death scene, tossing its victim around the room like a rag doll. He nails both of these sequences, and equals them with a few fresh ones for the returning faithful. His film is darker and scarier than Craven’s classic, and functions very well as a horror flick on those levels.

The decision to cast Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy proved to be a wise one – the creep-centric actor brings a new level of “ew” to Freddy’s gross-out veneer, reestablishing the villain as one of horror’s oddest and most disgusting killers. He’s clearly the star of this show – an upgrade in importance from the original – as the teen cast provides little in terms of talent or interest.

Melrose Place-er Katie Cassidy is the closest thing to a star in this terrible teen cast, and the furthest away from a high schooler. At 23, she plays Kris as a bottled-blonde half-wit, perhaps accounting for her post-college appearance with an inability to graduate. She’s dull and uninteresting, and is only surpassed in those departments by Rooney Mara, who plays Nancy as if she were dead before the reel started rolling. A drugged-out substitution for Zooey Deschanel, she stumbles through the film as if she needs to be put out of her misery. You may actually find yourself cheering for Freddy to do just that, which is only a problem because she’s the heroine star of this blood-sodden show.

Horror vet Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body, The Haunting in Connecticut) provides a glimmer of a spark as Nancy’s would-be boyfriend Quentin, but he’s walking in the shoes Johnny Depp once filled, so historically that’s a tough play.

Story-wise, the playbook is largely unchanged. Freddy has a better back-story (the one he was originally intended to have, in fact), but the teens are basically lemmings waiting to be massacred. Bayer’s Nightmare peaks where Craven’s floundered, in a thrilling third-act that brings both the film and its characters a much needed jolt of adrenaline (literally). Up until then, though, the new Nightmare suffers from a lack of what the original had in spades – heart, personality, and originality.

It feels like an easy out to harp on a remake for not being original, but in this situation, originality is the biggest thing the original Nightmare had going for it. The absence of it here extenuates the mechanical-execution of these Platinum Dunes retreads. Craven’s Nightmare, while flawed, was fun. In 1984, it wowed audiences and showed them a good time. There’s some “wow” in this new Nightmare, but not a lot of fun. And without the fun, slasher flicks become as dark, dismal and gruesome as the deathly acts they inflict.

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