Posted on February 16, 2009 by Jason Thorson
Friday the 13th opens with a flashback to Crystal Lake in 1980 as Alice beheads Pamela Voorhees with a machete. Then we’re introduced to a cadre of modern day horn dogs as they trek through the deep woods somewhere near the now abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. The coordinates of their marijuana crop have been programmed into their GPS unit, but they can’t seem to find anything. Sensing they’re close they decide to make camp and resume searching come morning. Hot casual sex ensues as well as some pot smoking followed by a cavalcade of brutal butchering courtesy of Jason Voorhees. And that’s just the prologue, ladies and gentlemen.
Six weeks later another group of young hellions stops by a local shop on the way to a Crystal Lake vacation home owned by one of their parents. There they meet another hansom young man who’s handing out missing persons flyers picturing his sister whom we recognize from the prologue. Then it’s off to the lake. Once they get to the house, more sex occurs as well as a little bong action and mass alcohol consumption. What happens next may shock you, but Jason shows up and kills most of them.
So what’s the verdict?
I went into this movie with irrationally high hopes, practically guaranteeing my disappointment. What I got was a mixed bag of well-worn slasher conceits, most of which narrowly miss the mark. Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th isn’t a remake, but it clearly is not a “re-imagining”. There are no new wrinkles added to the pre-existing early Friday the 13th mythology. It’s merely a solid, albeit predictable Friday the 13th movie.
The extended prologue borrows many elements from Friday the 13th Part II as well as a few from the original film. During this first 20 minutes the movie shows a lot of promise: Jason is extremely violent, there’s sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, and a couple of the kills are delightfully brutal. Bearing that in mind, please allow me to make something clear: Us fans of the series only want one thing and we expect to get it. It’s all about the kills!
As the rest of the movie borrows elements from both Friday the 13th Parts III and IV, it unfortunately settles for the expected gaggle of horny teens getting dispatched by Jason in a variety of ways, though surprisingly none of them are particularly memorable, nor frightening. As a matter of fact, the creativity and violence of the kills is sorely lacking, having seemingly been used up in the prologue. This is hugely disappointing given the “new twists to your old favorites” hype leading up to this movie’s release.
Derek Mears seems to have the right look and physicality to play Jason. He’s big and appears powerful, yet agile as well. When Nispel does him justice, Mears brings the exact presence necessary to the screen for the type of Jason this film wants to represent. However, the majority of the time Mears is on screen he’s shot in such a way as to make me think Jason really could’ve been played by any random big guy wearing the get up, no matter what Kane Hodder says. Most of Jason’s entrances into the frame are telegraphed and flat which reaffirms for me the fact that Marcus Nispel has very little experience telling scary stories as a filmmaker.
Most of the other stingers, or jump moments, are plagued by this same problem. There are the expected scenes when suspense is building effectively, but these always seem to payoff clumsily and before truly reaching a crescendo.
For the most part screenwriters, Damien Shannon and Mark Swift (the same duo that gave us Freddy vs. Jason), end up doing an admirable job of weaving elements from the first four movies into something coherent and organic. Although, somewhat over-ambitiously, they figure out a way to tweak the formula by giving us two survivor girls so that we’re kept guessing which one survives until the very end. In doing so they add an element to Jason’s modus operandi that I won’t give away here, but that I found unappealing and I’m sure most fans of the series will agree. Needless to say, this plot device comes at a price not worth paying.
The movie plays on a high technical level, looking and sounding great, and the acting is far superior to that in any of the other Friday films. It’s clear that Nispel and crew treat the subject matter with respect rather than as fodder for campy humor. But the bottom line is that if you’re going to step outside the evolution of this mythology and take it back to a place we’ve already been, then the core of what makes these movies somehow appealing needs to be amped up, or else it’s just a waste of time. Marcus Nispel and company do not bring anything to the table that even remotely accomplishes this.
I still haven’t forgiven this crew for their blasphemous and unwarranted remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Friday the 13th is a different animal altogether. There’ve been eleven of them. Jason’s died several times, he’s gone to Manhattan, he’s gone to the future, he’s gone to outer space, he’s gone to hell, he’s even battled Freddy Krueger. Given all that, it should have been relatively easy to take the chances necessary to give us something worthwhile, rather than utterly ridiculous. I mean really – no matter what these filmmakers did it wasn’t going to be as bad as the majority of the other Friday the 13th films.
And that’s just it. Friday the 13th isn’t bad, but the problem is that it isn’t good either. It merely hits the same old notes and with very little gusto, doing nothing to justify its own existence.
2 out of 5 flames
Review by Jason Thorson