Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Director: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Jared Paladecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Derek Mears
Running Time: 106 min.
Rating: R

★★ (out of ★★★★)

When I heard Friday the 13th would be the latest horror movie franchise subject to "re-imagining" for a new generation of audiences, I actually thought it was a great idea. Much like Halloween, the series had been beaten into the ground by its many worthless sequels and the only logical option left was a reboot. I also couldn't sympathize with fans who complained at the proposed plan to get Jason in the hockey mask as soon as possible, unlike the 1981 original. The iconic hockey mask IS Friday the 13th. Without it there's no film, or at least not a film anyone would be interested in seeing. To their credit, at least the filmmakers knew that.

Incidentally, one of those filmmakers just so happens to be Michael Bay, who when not raking in gazillions of dollars making racist robot movies, has a little side hobby of butchering horror classics for his Platinum Dunes production company. They were responsible for the two Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes, which at the time I kind of enjoyed, but now looking back, seem slick yet entirely forgettable. The same problem surfaces here but worse as this prequel/sequel/remake or whatever you choose to call it almost seems to be trying too hard, while simultaneously putting forth no effort at all.

In attempting to jam all the aspects of the first four films into one movie to appease hardcore fans the project instead turns into a structural mess with too many characters, too many killings in rapid succession of one another and a total lack of suspense. It's your typical torture porn, not necessarily any superior to the other recently unsuccessful remakes of Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine. It isn't so much a Friday the 13th film as it is just going through the motions of one. But that's not even what I take issue with. The real problem is that it just isn't any fun.

Yes, the original films were bad, but at least they were bad in the best possible way. The very definition of a guilty pleasure. It's also the only horror series I can remember that maintained the same consistency of badness throughout. You can sit on the couch for hours to watch a marathon and marvel how each film is as bad as next. No better, no worse. That's impressive. There's something to be said for consistency. It's no wonder they spawned a great NES game and a short-lived TV series arguably better than the films. They were just so much fun and I don't think I fully appreciated how fun they really were until watching director Marcus Nispel attempt to suck the joy out of them with this tiresome effort. It's a testament to the Jason mystique that even this film manages to have its moments. Not many, but a few. It's just unfortunate that they come too late.

The movie opens by clumsily cutting and pasting the first film's narrative into a 2-minute flashback sequence showing how as a child the hideously deformed Jason Voorhees witnessed his mother's death at Camp Crystal Lake. Say what you want about Rob Zombie's Halloween remake but at least he dared to try something different with the backstory and didn't just relegate it to a forgettable throwaway sequence two minutes into the film.

Flash forward to present day and a the first group of nondescript, interchangeable teens arrive at the now abandoned Camp Crystal Lake for some sex and drugs, skeptical of the Jason urban legend. Their skepticism soon ends when he hacks them up one by one. But notice I said the FIRST GROUP. That's because the film's first twenty minutes is actually a PROLOGUE. So went through all this and the movie hasn't even started! A needlessly complicated approach to what should be a relatively straightforward story.

Now it's six weeks later and Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) is searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) who was a part of that ill fated group. Along the way he encounters another group of teens heading to a lake house that belongs to the parents of frat boy prick Trent (Travis Van Winkle). Take a guess as to whether or not he survives until the end of the film. He's joined by his girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who to Trent's dismay takes a liking to Clay and is sympathetic to his situation. Along for the ride are their friends, token Asian sidekick Chewie (Aaron Yoo), aspiring rapper Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), slutty Bree (Julianna Guill), annoying Nolan (Ryan Hansen) and his would be girlfriend, ditzy Chelsea (Willa Ford). They are a step up from the first group and while a few of them even have identifiable personality traits of some sort, one word descriptions suit them just fine.

Choo is essentially reprising the same goofy role he played in Disturbia, 21 and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist with worse results while Hansen is channeling his obnoxious Dick Casablancas character from Veronica Mars all over again, but accomplishing far less. The only standouts (if such a word could even be used in this case) are thankfully the two leads, Padalecki and Panabaker, who at least manage to give performances that aren't completely awful. The rest of the cast is forgettable, something that can't often be said for previous entries in the series (especially The Final Chapter). But that hardly matters. They're all there to scream and die anyway. In the film's final hour Nispel actually seems to remember that and the story picks up some steam, cleverly referencing some of the series' most famous moments, albeit with far less creativity and excitement.

There's at least one memorable kill scene, well shot and choreographed at the lake that makes you believe the ingredients were there for an inspired reimagining of this material. The problem with the rest of it is there's just no suspense and intrigue, the script falsely approximates teen speak and there's an undercurrent of mean spirited humorlessness that isn't found in even the worst of the previous films. Even the trademark gratuitous nudity and drug use feels forced and strangely out of place, as if the screenwriters were just marking off a checklist. So much weed is either consumed or talked about I thought I was watching a Cheech & Chong movie. And remind me to petition the MPAA to pass a law blocking the use of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" in any film not directed by P.T. Anderson. It's sacralege hearing it in the opening minutes of a film like this.

As for the big hockey mask moment, when we see how Jason settled on his favorite brand of face wear, it doesn't feel like such a big moment because Nispel draws such attention to it. When we saw him surprisingly appear with the mask on in Part III it felt like a huge deal because it was a surprise and we had no idea at the time how important it was. You can go back and watch it now and it'll still get the same reaction, regardless of that film's quality. Here, when Jason graduates from sack to hockey mask the only reaction you're likely to have is: "Oh, there's the hockey mask." The important element of surprise is missing no matter how much the music is pumped up or how Nispel chooses to frame it. They would have been better off just starting the film with Jason in the mask than attempting to compete with the legacy of the franchise, as silly as it is.

Stuntman Derek Mears does a fine job stepping in for Kane Hodder, who many consider to be the best actor to play the role up to this point. I say that with reservations since I haven't a clue what special talent it takes to run around in a hockey mask and stalk people. It can't be difficult and it stands to reason anyone physically imposing could play the part well enough. But a mistake is made in speeding up Jason's movements. Nispel is already clueless as far as building suspense and that decision just makes it worse. At least when Jason was lumbering around in the previous films there was time for tension to be built. Now it's kill after kill after kill. It just doesn't mean anything anymore. At least not like it used to. None of the other movies were scary, but some of them were suspenseful...and funny. This is none of the above.

The writers of the film were Damian Shannon and Mark Swift who previously penned 2003's disasterous Freddy vs. Jason. They've said in interviews they learned their lessons from the mistakes they made on that film. I'm curious what they thought those were. Just once I'd like to see a horror movie written by first-class screenwriters and a great director and see what we'd get. And it would have to be fun. Actually maybe a lesser director so the films wouldn't look so much like slickly made music videos.

These types of movies have grown by leaps and bounds technically but so what? That approach doesn't HELP a horror movie, especially if there's no suspense or story. If that were to happen perhaps the horror genre would be able to shake the terrible (and somewhat deserving) stigma it's currently stained with. Instead, a sequel to this is being planned and we have A Nightmare on Elm Street remake to dread also. That it stars Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger makes me feel a little better but not much. The most disappointing aspect to the Friday the 13th reboot is that it's completely indistinguishable from every other horror remake. This is successful only in reigniting a renewed interest and appreciation in the original films. It turns out they were much better than we thought.


Fred [The Wolf] said...

I think 2 out of 4 is the perfect score for this bland remake. I saw this one when it was released in theaters and I gotta tell you - everyone sitting with me were just as apathetic as I was watching this. No one screamed in fear. We all laughed at the same parts. And then when that stupid fuckin' ending came up, we all got up and left without bothering to see if something came after the credits. I felt like I wasted half of my ticket price on this one. I think the memorable death you're referring to involves a certain former blonde singer. Yeah, I actually dug that one alot. But other than that, a waste of time and money. I would have preferred a sequel or a continuation of FREDDY VS. JASON. But Hollywood sucks these days so I'm gonna have to live with this remake trend. Great review as always.

Ben K said...

I most certainly agree with 2 out of 4 on this one. It felt like this one had potential to really work in a way the sequels did not, but it turns out to be just another horror remake from Platinum Dunes. For what it's worth, it's certainly better than the new Transformers sequel. Great review as always!

Jonathan said...

Completely agree with your review, but I do have to say that Kane Hodder brings a little more to the role than most people give him credit for. I remember thinking the same as you and then I went back and watched his first appearance in Part VII; there is actual acting going on as opposed to someone just stumbling around with a hockey mask on. My personal favorite moment is the tree branch scene with him and psychic Tina. The whole sequence is ridiclous with cheesy effects to boot, but Kane makes it work with simple head ticks and eye movement. It's not high art by any means, but you can tell a difference in the role itself from the previous inhabitants. That being said, I thought Mears was fine and stood out much better than the one-note characters he was surrounded by.