Sunday, 26 December 2010

Friday the 13th (2009)

Dir. Marcus Nispel

When his younger sister becomes the latest person to go missing during a camping trip to Crystal Lake, Clay Miller sets out to find her, with or without the help of the local police. Falling in with a crowd of teens staying in a holiday chalet on Crystal Lake, he is joined by sympathetic Jenna in his search of the local area, while her friends remain at the house to party. Before long it becomes apparent the area is stalked by a hulking psychopath who abducts and murders anyone who encroaches on the grounds of an old summer camp… It would seem those old campfire tales of a hermetic psycho named Jason Voorhees may have had more of a grounding in reality than anyone ever dared dream of… Let the blood run free!

When it was originally conceived, the remake of Friday the 13th was intended to be an origin story, detailing the genesis of mass murderer Jason Voorhees. Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who had previously worked on Freddy vs. Jason for New Line, were brought in again to pen a screenplay. They eventually fashioned a script that was envisioned as a reboot of the series. Amalgamating elements from the first four movies, this reboot manages to provide a fitting sense of history and actually exhibits more plot than most of the prior Friday the 13th movies combined! Though naturally, that isn’t saying much.

When I first saw the reboot of Friday the 13th, I didn’t really think much of it. Then I thought carefully about the original and what Platinum Dunes had done with it. The original is considered a classic, sure, and as much as I love it and enjoy watching it, there’s no mistaking it was conceived as a rip off of Halloween to cash in on that film‘s success. While far from a flawless movie, it is still held in an almost defensive reverence by purists. A second viewing of the reboot convinced me that what Nispel, Shannon and Swift have attempted to do is craft an old school slasher in the vein of the original Friday the 13th movies and it is easy to see that attempts have been made to at least capture the spirit of the original series. Shannon and Swift have taken the fact that characters in Friday the 13th movies exist solely to be murderlised and just run with it. They’ve deliberately created characters who are unsympathetic - with the exception of a few - so their deaths, when they come, will illicit cheers from the audience. While this detracts a little from the tension, it is at least in keeping with the mentality of slasher movies - in particular the Friday the 13th titles. A few genre conventions are side-stepped without the nudge-winkery of the Scream-era slashers - though most clich├ęs are stuck to like flypaper. The usual notion of the Final Girl is slightly skewed in that the girl who was signposted to be the last one standing (Danielle Panabaker), turns out to not be and in her place we have a 'final boy.' As the resourceful and determined Clay, Jared Padalecki's sincere performance convinces. The surprisingly likable local sheriff is played by the always sturdy Richard Burgi, who proves less ineffective than most slasher movie cops.



Aside from talk of cell phones and GPS gadgets etc, the rest of the film and its script could have been made back in the slasher heydays of the early Eighties. It certainly exudes that mentality and outlook. Characters still smoke pot, drink beer and indulge in copious amounts of sex. The screenplay is adorned with a nostalgic sheen as the writers fondly recall and recreate slasher scenarios from the subgenre’s glory days. The amount of breastage on display also recalls the golden era of slasherdom. Even a few of the Friday the 13th movies’ recurring motifs are added to the mix. It seems no Friday the 13th flick is quite complete without someone’s slashed-up body being chucked through a window. A number of inventive deaths also manage to shock - none more so than that of the unfortunate girl hung over a campfire in her sleeping bag. While not directly lifted from past movies, these moments at least feel like they could have been. Indeed, much of the film unfolds as a loving homage to its predecessors - the majority of the running time is given over to the building of suspense as annoying teens drink, smoke and fuck their way around a creepy location as they’re picked off one by one in increasingly grisly ways - completely oblivious to the danger they are in. In keeping with the usual tradition of slasher movie teens, this lot also seem to hate each other - bickering and goading ensue when they are together. Alpha male Trent is a particularly unsympathetic and egotistical prick, played with smug aplomb by Travis Van Winkle.



Severely unfunny pot-shots are taken at the roles played by ethnic minorities in horror, the result of which render the ‘token’ ethnic characters amongst the most annoying of the bunch: “Why you gotta go racial? Don't put me in a box, all right? What, because I'm black I can't listen to Green Day? *Groans* Indeed, the only characters even remotely fleshed out are the ones who survive longest. Shocker. Even they aren’t remotely three dimensional just because they are at least ‘nice’ and less annoying than the others; we root for them on a purely human level. Having said that, writers Shannon and Swift know that we don’t watch these movies for delicately nuanced characterisation or insightful deconstruction of the human condition. We watch ‘em to indulge in the carnage of annoying, attractive teens - smug (and safe) in the knowledge that we would never be as stupid or make the same fatal errors as them.

The reinvention of Jason (Derek Mears) is a solid one. He’s leaner, meaner and much more calculating and actively sadistic in this version. While the back-story fleshes him out, it isn’t to the detriment of the character - a la Freddy vs. Jason. He still maintains an air of mystery, and instead of the lumbering zombie he eventually became in the original series, here he is presented as a feral, ferocious, conniving maniac - closer to his incarnation in Part II - whose mortality makes him all the more menacing. He’s just a calculating psychopath skulking about the woods. We glimpse him as a disfigured boy, the 'baghead' version from the second instalment of the original series and eventually as the iconic hockey mask-wearing killer he will always be remembered as. The location is effectively realised and the labyrinth of tunnels under the old summer camp go some way to explain how it is that Jason is able to stalk his prey and seemingly pop up behind them from out of nowhere. The old cabins and the usual sort of imagery associated with the series is recreated lovingly, with Daniel Pearl’s now tell-tale atmospheric cinematography in all its mist-shrouded creepiness ensuring events play out in a fitting no-man’s-land where the teens are totally at the mercy of nature. Primal fears and back to basics survival never looked so slick.

One small (personal) gripe is the distinct lack of Mrs Voorhees. While her memory faded as the series progressed, it was hoped that her presence would make itself known again in a reboot of the franchise. As the wronged and vengeful matriarch, Nana Visitor graces the screen for too short a time during a brief prologue that plays out under the opening credits. However the impact of her blood-stained actions resonates long after, as it is made explicitly clear her son witnessed her murder and picked up where she left off. Teens = BAD! Must. Be. Punished. The usual sex equals death mantra of the series is also splayed across the screen during a particularly wrung out scene where two blonde and obnoxious teens are having sex in the holiday chalet. We cut ever rapidly between them and Whitney (Amanda Righetti) making a break for it with Jason stalking after her as she runs toward the chalet for help. Just as it seems she’s about to pound on the window for help, Jason roughly apprehends her. The scene plays out in the heady cornucopia of exploitation, titillation and sleazy suspense that made the first movie so dubiously compelling.


The reboot also works well as a companion piece to the Platinum Dunes remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and is just as slick, with the same stylised grittiness that pales in comparison to the original’s stifling carnal-house atmospherics. Both films though, while shadows of their originals, manage to be entertaining and well enough made in their own right. Most wouldn’t doubt Nispel’s ability to wrack up tension or spin a good yarn - even if the yarn was told in a much more compelling and effective way many years before.

A well made and fairly solid outing which manages to bring a much needed air of menace back to the series and even though it is just a glossy take on a tried and tested formula, it is still enjoyable - and retains the same familiar (and popular) sensibilities of the original flicks.

From a geeky point of view, it was also kinda cool to see the film begin with the Paramount logo and Jason’s unmistakable motif echo across it: Ki Ki Ki Ma Ma Ma…

8 comments:

Emily said...

I don't know. Maybe I need to give it another chance, but I hated HATED this remake when I saw it last year. I'm not the biggest Jason fan (the fact that my favorites are part 8 and X says a lot) and so I was completely fine with the idea of a remake, but I thought this one didn't do anything interesting OR scary with the material. I hated everyone onscreen except for the Asian guy (yup, how else can I refer to him?) and briefly I thought "whoah, what if HE's the final girl?" But nah, nothing new here. The Travis Van Winkle character, who's so incredibly hatable, doesn't even get a good death scene! Grr. Like I said, perhaps I should give it another chance and more alcohol.

James said...

No they really didn't do anything interesting or scary with the material - but when you consider what the material IS, that is hardly surprising! I really hated this one too when I first checked it out in the cinema. For some reason I enjoyed it more when I watched it again. I think my expectations were unreasonably high. I had more of an idea what to expect this time - and hey, maybe it was just because I’d watched all the other movies first that this one didn’t seem so bad in comparison!
I think it retains something of the spirit of the original series, and for that I’m, letting it off the hook. That, and its amazing dialogue… “Your tits are stupendous. You got perfect nipple placement, baby.” Only that can top “If you were a flavour of ice cream, what would it be?” No, wait... ;o)

Aaron said...

Great write-up, James. Like Emily, I wasn't a fan of this when I saw it in theaters. I didn't completely hate it and felt there was some merit to it, but for the most part: meh. I haven't gone back to watch it since then, but I'm sure I will give it another go and maybe see it with a different set of eyes. As far as the characters, I understand what the writers were doing by making some of them extremely unlikable so that their deaths would be more satisfying, but it doesn't make them any less of a headache to watch. Not all characters in slasher movies have to be unlikable. Some of my favorite slashers take the time to develop the characters before killing them off, so the Swift/Shannon approach to creating a bunch of stereotypical characters (racial or otherwise) suggests lazy writing and a lack of creativity. I can take "bad" movies, but it's the lazy ones that really irk me, and I feel that was the case with this reboot. Aside from that, I thought it had its fun moments.

James said...

I'm picking up a recurring theme here - a lot of people seem to really hate this! The question is, can I be bothered to defend its honour?? Probably not, but I will say this - I found it to be a fun movie. That is all. The original was also pretty low on imagination and creativity (I still love it though), so yes, while there was a lot of room for the writers to expand and try to do something interesting, they - much like most people who have actually watched the film - just thought ‘meh.’ I’m convinced the whole thing is a very sly throwback to classic slasher movies (well, the really lazy ones, anyway) - right down to the shit dialogue, copious T’n’A and uneven pacing. Then again I seem to recall drinking a lot of wine watching this one. And there was no one around to disagree with me.
And Aaron you are so right - some of the best slashers have taken the time to craft characters we actually care for - Halloween and Cold Prey immediately spring to mind. And Leprechaun in Da Hood. No, wait… :o)

Carl Manes said...

I'm with you on this one, James, I thought it was the perfect direction for the series and in all of its average glory, it managed to at least equal many of the earlier sequels. I love the dark, gritty take on the series, but perhaps people dismiss it for being too serious and lacking the higher entertainment value of the campier 80's films?

James said...

Agreed, Carl. I also welcomed the darker, grittier vibe and love how you said "in all of its average glory" - sums it up aptly.

DTGReviews said...

This movie wasn't terrible as far as horrors go. It had blood, drug, violence, gore, suspense and nudity and Jason slashing up the campers, but I don't know. Just seemed like overall something was missing, it adds nothing new other that the "greatest hits" of the first 3 films in the franchise.

James said...

Yeah, the first time I saw it (in the cinema!) I was very underwhelmed and even contemplated declaring my hatred of it. I checked it out again on DVD and found myself really enjoying it. I love the sense of humour and how it feels quite 'vintage'. Then again, maybe my brain just fell out of my ears after watching the entire series of Friday movies in quick succession, thus making me enjoy this one more than I had done initially... ;)
As far as recent remakes of classic slashers go, this one was one of the least shitty. And I love what they did with Jason.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!