Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday the 13th **
Directed By:
Marcus Nispel.
Written By: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift.
Starring: Jared Padalecki (Clay Miller), Danielle Panabaker (Jenna), Amanda Righetti (Whitney Miller), Travis Van Winkle (Trent), Aaron Yoo (Chewie), Derek Mears (Jason Voorhees), Jonathan Sadowski (Wade), Julianna Guill (Bree), Ben Feldman (Richie), Arlen Escarpeta (Lawrence), Ryan Hansen (Nolan), Willa Ford (Chelsea), Nick Mennell (Mike), America Olivo (Amanda), Kyle Davis (Donnie), Richard Burgi (Officer Bracke).

With his first film, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Marcus Nispel proved that he understood how to make an effective horror film. Like all good horror movies, it grabbed you from the first frame and didn’t let go. Yes, it was violent and gruesome, and you certainly didn’t feel “good” while watching it, but then again you shouldn’t feel good while watching it. The less said about his next film, Pathfinder, the better (it proved, if nothing else, that Nispel should stick to horror).

Now he returns to the horror genre with another remake – this time of Friday the 13th. Of the three major horror franchises of the 1980s – the other two being Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween – Friday the 13th always felt like the poor cousin of the other two. Both Halloween and Nightmare both had legitimately great first chapters, and had at least one or two other installments that were effective as pure horror movies (in fact, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors may actually be better than the original). But Friday the 13th always felt more exploitive, less imaginative to me. It was a series clearly copied off of the Halloween formula, but simply replaced all the original tension with gore galore, and by making the killer mentally challenged, and I think they may have crossed a line between good old fashioned horror fun, and downright cruelty. I didn’t see all 11 original movies with Jason, but I certainly saw more than I had real reason to. They were just not scary.

The new film is not so much as a remake to the original Friday the 13th, as a sort of quasi-sequel that pretty much ignores everything that happened in films 2-11. In the original film of course, Jason Voorhees didn’t actually kill anyone. It was his demented mother who hacked up all of the naughty teenagers who she blamed for her son’s drowning at the camp years before. Jason made a cameo appearance at the end, after his mother had been decapitated by the surviving “virgin girl”. It wasn’t until the second film that Jason would start wrecking havoc.

The new film is better than any of the previous entries that I have seen, but I realize in saying this, that I am essentially damning the film with feint praise. It is an effective slasher movie, and refreshingly, never really sinks to the level of “torture porn” as so many recent horror movies have. Jason Voorhees maybe a psychopathic monster, but he doesn’t really believe in drawing the whole process out. Why torture someone for hours or days on end, when a simple machete chop to the head gets the job done a whole lot faster, right? Nispel handles this all about as good as can be expected. The story is derivative of the stories that have come before it. The opening sequence involves a group of sexually precocious, drug taking, beer swilling young people who stumble upon Camp Crystal Lake, and have the misfortune of meeting Jason. Six weeks later, one of those young people’s brothers (Jared Padalecki) shows up to search for his sister, and then meets up with another group of sexually precocious, drug taking, beer swilling young people who Jason proceeds to hack up with just as much vigor. Along the way, he also hacks up some other people – including an inbred redneck, from which Jason gets his famed hockey mask. You know the story going in, and the movie doesn’t really surprise you.

But a bigger problem is that movie doesn’t really scare you either. Admittedly, there are only so many places a hulking 6’5 guy in a hockey mask can hide without being noticed, and the other 11 movies pretty much used them all up, so this movie, by necessity, has to repeat a lot of them. But there is only really one moment – the last shot in the film – that made me jump. The rest is just clich├ęd. Nispel does it all well enough, but you have to wonder if there was a point in doing it at all.

In the past few years we have got a lot of remakes of 1970s and 1980s American horror classics. Most of them haven’t been very good, but there were a few that were. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was able to recreate the first films primal terror, even if it did veer off the deep end at the film’s conclusion. Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes re-imagined Wes Craven’s film as some sort of crazed Peckinpah film about spineless Liberals, and how to be a real man, you need a big gun. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was a breakneck fast action film, rather than a horror film. And perhaps best of all, Rob Zombie’s Halloween actually took the character of Michael Myers seriously, and took the time to examine him, before they had him hack up a bunch of teenagers. Friday the 13th doesn’t really do any of that. It does what it does well. But if you weren’t already a fan of Jason, this movie isn’t going to convert you.

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