Sunday, May 2, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 8: The One That's a Remake

So, its finally happened...they've remade A Nightmare on Elm Street and they've recast Freddy Krueger.  You can imagine the public outcry over this in the horror and critical community.  Cries of "How dare they?" are still echoing through the air even now as the new film is number one at the box office.  Oh, if that worries you about the state of our culture's collective pop taste...don't be too concerned, horror films typically have a large drop off in the second weekend.  Plus, Iron Man 2 opens next weekend and frankly...nothing else has a chance.  But, what we really want to know is, is the film any good.  Have they done justice to the legacy of Freddy while also bringing something new to the table?  Well, settle in for a nap and find out while I discuss A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).

The film opens in the Springwood, Diner.  A teenager named Dean is very sleep deprived and is trying to tell his friend Kris about the nightmares he is having.  Soon, he falls asleep and cuts his own throat with a steak knife.  After the funeral, Kris, her ex-boyfriend Jesse, Jesse's friend Quentin, and the school loner Nancy notice that they are all dreaming about the same man.  Kris tries to find out why she's having these dreams, and in doing so discovers that she shares a connection with Dean that she never knew.  They knew each other when they were small children.  Before she can get to the actual truth, she is killed in her sleep and Jesse is blamed for the crime.  Quentin and Nancy then join forces and begin to unravel the mystery that unites them.  It seems that when they were all 5, they attended preschool together and were pulled out following an incident with the school gardener, Freddy Krueger, who disappeared after he was accused of molestation.  Now it seems that all of the kids from that preschool class are all dying in their sleep and Nancy and Quentin are the last on the list of kids who got him killed...and they're beginning to get sleepy.

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this film, and a lot of bad things.  On one hand, its difficult to accept a new actor as Freddy Krueger after so many years with the same man.  This time, Krueger is played with a much less playful attitude than Robert Englund did, thanks to the contribution by actor Jackie Earle Haley.  Haley, best known for his role as Rorschach in last year's Watchmen, makes Krueger dark and unapologetic in his actions...but he also plays it as a man who has been wronged.  Englund's Krueger was always motivated by revenge...but he was continuing the work that he had started in life.  Haley's Krueger never murdered children before he was killed by the parents of the children, and is motivated by his wish to kill the kids for telling on him.  Is he mad because they lied about him, or is he mad that they told?  That is the question asked by the film...which adds a nice unexpected mystery twist to the film that we didn't have in the previous version.  Also commendable are the actors Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara as Quentin and Nancy, the main protagonists.  Both actors are talented and bring a 'realness' to their roles.  You believe them, and that makes you like them.  In fact, these kids are onscreen more than Haley, so you need to like them.  Katie Cassidy is fine as Kris, as is Thomas Dekker as Jesse...but they are typical pretty actors and we tend to sympathize less for them on that basis (its a nasty psychological thing that we do and don't deny that you do it).  Speaking of pretty, Gallner and Mara are nice looking sure...but they look the most normal of all the leads of the cast and it makes the film seem more grounded in reality because of that (in the same way that Heather Langenkamp was nice looking, but not HOT in the original...she looked like a real girl that you'd see in the school hallway everyday).  As for the script, it retells the Elm Street story nicely and adds enough to it in order to make it fresh for those of us who have seen it before.  However, there are places where it follows the beats of the original too closely (reusing famous imagery and sometimes it doesn't always fit in organically with this version...like Kris in the bodybag).  Kris is obviously Tina and Jesse is Rod...and they get killed in the same order, which leaves no surprises in that arena.  It is nice that they make Kris the protagonist for a good chunk of the film, it makes it all the more jarring when she is finally killed.  However, in doing so...they miss the opportunity to develop Nancy more early on.  Which I guess is another testament to Mara's talent, because she makes Nancy likable and more than a 2D character without much first act development.  The dream sequences are decent too, though they do skip about in location a bit more than I'd like.  You never get the build of suspense in one area like you do in Craven's original.  The worst thing about the new movie is the overuse of jump scares.  They keep having Krueger jump out every two seconds to go boo, or have things run across the camera...and there's no suspense build up before hand so the 'boo' is wasted.  Its really sad, because if the scenes were drawn out a little longer and the 'boos' used a little less, it might be much more full of tension.  Also, some of Krueger's dialogue reads a bit rocky...it lacks wit and polish.  Haley manages to read it well, but it just feels clunky.  Thankfully though, the puns are kept to a minimum (the worst being a reuse of "How's this for a wet dream?") and that's good since this Krueger is not a jokester.  He's very serious...which is going to (and has) turn(ed) people off.  At the end of the day, this was an OK remake that I would watch again.  It has flaws that keeps it from meeting the greatness of the original, but it shouldn't need to be compared.  As a film, on its own merits, it succeeds on a level of entertainment.  Hopefully, if they do more Elm Streets after this one, they do less jump scares and more fascinating dream setups.  This concludes Elm Street Week and I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I have writing about it.  Coming soon will be my look at Prom Horror, in the spirit of the season.  So be afraid, be very afraid.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Loved the review!
Was wondering what your take on this one was going to be.
Glad to hear it made a decent go at a horror classic.