Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Movie Review: A Reboot Following in the Grand Tradition of Other Banal Reboots

6 June 2012 - Minor edits for clarity and typos.
The recent remake of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on the rather dubious – no, absurd – premise that fifteen teenagers would all have absolutely no memory of having gone to a nursery school at age four or five. I haven’t got a lot of distinct memories from my nursery school days, but I know where it was and I know I went.

Once as a teenager I met one of my old classmates and we vaguely recognized each other in spite of the physical changes that accompany the transition from age 4 to 16. Five of the characters in the film go to high school together, believing that they met each other in middle school. None of them remembers anything from their early childhoods. This serves one purpose, only useful to the plot’s feeble attempt at mystery and suspense: to create confusion among the kids and allow for drawn out sequences of discovery and investigation.




You’ll likely know the basic plot: group of teens are all haunted by an identical bogeyman in their dreams. When he kills in the dream, his victims die for real. Haunted teens try to become insomniacs, but always fall asleep and get picked off one by one. They have a secret connection to one another which they have to discover to try to defeat Freddy.

Jackie Earle Haley is now filling Robert Englund’s shoes (or razor glove, as it were) playing Freddy Krueger, who does the dream slashing. Haley has now officially made a comeback career of playing the creepiest men in cinema. His renaissance started with his Oscar nominated turn as a child molester in Little Children and since then he’s gone on to play the disturbed Rorschach in Watchmen and a mental patient in Shutter Island.

Unfortunately the screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer gives Haley very little to do. I was originally intrigued by the casting choice, but he’s got too little room to build a character and give him personality. Part of what made Wes Craven’s original film work so well was the way Freddy toyed with his victims. He was frighteningly playful, not like in the later films when he let loose a series of bad puns and punch lines.

Samuel Bayer’s direction lacks all the atmosphere that Craven instilled in his film 26 years ago. This is Bayer’s first feature film after a long track record of music videos. Nightmare doesn’t bare most of the trademarks of the music video genre, but it’s clear he hasn’t exactly honed his skills at nuance. The one thing I think it does better than the original is make Freddy’s past as a child predator a little bit more explicit. He’s quite clearly a child molester while in the earlier film he was a child murderer (with the molester part merely implicit) There is some truly creepy dialogue when he tells a teenage girl she’s still as pretty as ever or when he tells another she was always his favorite.

The teenage characters are filled out by the usual cadre of 20-something actors with impossibly perfect features: Kyle Gallner; Katie Cassidy; Thomas Dekker; and Rooney Mara (as the heroine Nancy), who also had a pivotal role in the recent The Social Network, and here she's about the only actor who showed up with more than good looks. Connie Britton and Clancy Brown round out the cast as two of the teens’ parents responsible for Freddy’s fate many years ago.


Ultimately, Heisserer and Strick have taken a film that struck at the core of many people’s primal fear – the extreme vulnerability of being asleep and the complete lack of control of our dreams and turned it into little more than a paltry excuse to generate more cash flow out of a dead franchise. In attempting to preserve some elements from the original, they’ve created a mishmash that often makes very little sense. Why, for example, is the first victim torturing himself to stay awake before having any awareness of the consequences of being killed in his dream? What is the source of the children’s rhyme, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” if Freddy was not a child killer in this update? And when Nancy is conducting Internet research and comes across a video blog by one of Freddy’s earlier victims who dies at the end of his last entry, you have to wonder how he posted it post mortem. Is it too much to ask for even some semblance of logic?

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