– Summary –
Director : Samuel Bayer
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Rooney Mara, Jackie Earl Haley, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton.
Approx Running Time : 94 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of students discover the recurring nightmares they’ve been having, in which a man wielding claws for a hand attacks them, have a dark link to their past.
What we think : Mind-numbingly dreadful “reboot” of the Nightmare franchise delivers plenty of superficial scares, although not through any legitimate storytelling or tension building elements. A film primarily designed as a carnival ride of jump-bang shocks and occasional gore, Nightmare On Elm Street never quite feels as nightmarish (if you’ll excuse the pun) as it wants to be. The cast scream well, the production design is typically evocative, yet the refusal to generate any sense of dread through the story – instead of crash-bang editing techniques and voluminous sound cues – means the film’s as tiresome as it is stupid.
Slash and burn.
As with most modern remakes of “classic” genre films – in this case, Wes Craven’s 1984 classic, A Nightmare On Elm Street – the results of trying to update the story have once again been met with the dull, dreary “polished turd” form of film-making; 2010’s Nightmare entry, the ninth in the franchise, is a cash-in that does nothing to persuade anybody that there’s life left in Freddy Krueger’s story. In fact, I’d say this film does just the opposite. Eschewing tension, character development or any kind of passion for the project, Nightmare delivers only the most superficial thrills in its entire 90-minute slog to get to the point.
In Springwood USA, local teen Daniel (Kellan Lutz) meets his girlfriend Kris (Katie Cassidy) at the local diner to tell her he’s been having recurring nightmares about a man with horrific burns, a glove with razors on it, and a fedora. Kris, initially disbelieving, watches in horror as Daniel apparently commits suicide right in front of everyone. Waitress and fellow school alum Nancy (Rooney Mara) also begins to have nightmares about the razor-handed man, as does Kris. Nancy’s admirer-from-afar, Quentin (Kyle Gallner) tries to help her in uncovering the reason behind their shared nightmares, learning the history of the man named Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earl Haley) and the reason he’s returned from the afterlife to haunt their dreams. Refusing to sleep for fear of being killed by Krueger, Nancy and Quentin journey to an old pre-school to put and end to Freddy’s reign of terror.
If there’s a franchise in the history of horror cinema that held the most potential for modern film-making, it would be the Nightmare On Elm Street saga. The franchise has the recurring theme that a razor-clawed killer, Freddy Krueger, exists in peoples dreams, and if he kills you in your dream, you die in real life; the potential this “dream world” opens up for state-of-the-art visual effects and directors to go hog-wild is enormous. How, then, does it all go so horribly wrong? While the original franchise films spiraled into an oblivion of inept storytelling and lackluster effects, only to be resurrected somewhat with creator Wes Craven’s New Nightmare entry – a meta-film if ever there was – the new millennium’s reboot of the saga starts crappy, and stays there. The central premise and characters are there, and the overarching arc for Freddy Krueger’s backstory is inherently the same, yet director Samuel Bayer lacks the ability to cogently connect the pieces to form an entertaining – or even interesting – whole. Given the disparity between this film and Craven’s in terms of end result (let’s face it, the original Nightmare is still kinda cool, with its goofy 80’s charm), how do they screw up a story so inherently horrific to the point where you’re just sitting there, waiting for it all to end?
The 2010 Nightmare doesn’t get off to a great start. The film’s opening gambit, a diner-bound sequence involving Twilight “star” Kellan Lutz, who ends up slitting his own throat in front of horrified onlookers, just feels flat and forced, as if Bayer is trying for creepy 80’s schlock and never quite nailing it. He doesn’t nail it because, well, we’re no longer in the 80’s, and making a film try and fit that mold in the way Bayer does it, simply doesn’t work. Another thing that annoyed me with the film is the aspect that it appears we (the audience) are already supposed to have our knowledge of Freddy and his machinations forearmed before we start watching – considering the film is a reboot of the franchise, perhaps going in with preconceived ideas slants our perspectives too much for the paper-thin story to sway elsewhere. I mean, I knew about Freddy, but newcomers to the franchise would be sitting there, completely nonplussed, as the cast and crew do their damnedest to give any kind of legitimacy to this as an entry in the saga.
The film’s elemental crash-bang scare tactic is replayed over, over, and over again, and just when you think a scene can’t possibly go “BOO” any more, it does it a further three or four times just to make sure you’re not falling asleep. It’s a cinematic tactic that’s become de rigeur with the horror/slasher genre, in as much as the audience expects this kind of thing to occur at least once or twice within any given movie. Here, Bayer uses the tactic in nearly every scene, at least twice. For the first five or ten minutes, it’s an effective style, but by the time the end credits roll, you’re no longer jumping out of your skin, nor are you hitting the ceiling with fright: overkill of the crash-bang edit effectively ruins this movie. It doesn’t help that Steve Jablonsky’s skin-crawling score is amped up to 11 in the sound mix, more often giving the game away before anything happens; I guess it’s a suitable score for a film such as this, but subtle and creative, it ain’t.
The cast do a commendable job with the rancid script; Rooney Mara, in particular, who would star in the American remake of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is as watchable as this film gets, and even she seems bored and annoyed at having to contractually do anything on camera. Generally, though, the cast roster is as generic Bland American Teen as it gets; all fodder for Freddy’s revenge on the town that torched him, and as you’d expect, there’s not a single shining light among them. The film takes the unusual step of shifting the focus from one character to another mid0way through the film as our primary association; it succeeds in throwing us off the scent as to who we should be giving our empathy to, but I could understand if some found this jarring and somewhat disingenuous. It seems a lot like Hitchcock’s killing off of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) midway through Psycho – only without the class. And I in no way associate this film with Psycho’s greatness. Katie Cassidy plays Kris, the first primary character through whom we learn that the nightmares plaguing the kids of the town are linked, and through whom we also get our first few glimpses of Freddy’s malevolent presence. Thomas Dekker does a surly job as Kris’s ex-boyfriend, although it’s a thankless (and fruitless) role that offers nothing to the audience. Rooney Mara’s Nancy (the original Nightmare’s central female lead was also named Nancy) and her wannabe love interest Quentin (Kyle Gallner) provide the crux of the film’s narrative heft in the third act, as they uncover Freddy’s dark secrets (as well as their own) and move in to try and stop him killing them too.
Key to the film’s success or failure is Jackie Earl Haley, as Freddy. Haley’s no Robert Englund – Englund essayed the role in each of the previous seven franchise entries – although admittedly I was glad they cast him after his work in films such as Watchmen. It’s something of a mixed bag, Haley’s Freddy. His iconic facial prosthetics are augmented by some minor CGI, not that you can tell, really, and Haley sells the role with a commanding screen presence, but Bayer once again doesn’t quite get the pacing, the editing, or the flow of the film right to really make Freddy kick in this movie. There’s a lack of menace to Freddy, replaced instead with a kind of perfunctory squatness where he’s just…. there, and that’s it. There’s no showmanship to him any more. The film makes little point of his gloved claws, nor does it even explain this character trait, and the distinct lack of charm to the character (yes, even a villain as distinct as Krueger needs a certain screen charm) makes Haley’s Freddy seem a little… well, like a half-assed parody. He just…. was.
It’s a sad fact that many of the once great horror/slasher franchises of the 80’s have diminished to the point where even a half-solid reboot idea just doesn’t work any more. Perhaps they’re no longer interesting as characters, perhaps audiences favor a more unique-to-our-time screen monster (I mean, the most recent newbie on the block is probably the ghost face from the Scream series!) or perhaps they’re just past their used-by date: it’s as if the idea of these monsters is more fascinating than the actuality, and when filmmakers try tackling them, they don’t have the resonance they once did. Rose colored glasses and all. The 2010 Nightmare On Elm Street is as generic at heart as it is superficial at scares – the scares are there, but there’s nothing behind them to give us a payoff at the end, while the scripting remains as dire as any other post-2000 horror flick. After the frivolous fun of Freddy vs Jason, the new Nightmare is more a nightmare to watch for what it doesn’t achieve, than a nightmare of a story to entertain.