Posted on May 3, 2010 by Jason Thorson
Director Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, the “re-imagining” of Wes Craven’s groundbreaking 1984 slasher opus, is an unfortunate inevitability. During the last several years horror fans have had little original material to enjoy within the sanctity of sticky floors, air thick with the scent of butter flavoring, and arm rests that feature cup-holders. Virtually all the major horror flicks of yesteryear and even some of the minor ones have been re-hashed over the last decade, helmed by inexperienced and thus inexpensive filmmakers, and resulting in little more than tarnished legacies. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I detest this current get-rich-quick scheme by the powers that be. Despite having well-reasoned low expectations, I was still taken aback by the level of ineptitude displayed in Platinum Dunes’ latest strip mining of pop culture’s rich dark history. If nothing else, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a worst case scenario.
Bayer’s film follows the broad blueprint of its predecessor. The teenagers of Springwood are all trying desperately to stay awake because when they dream, they’re stalked by Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a pedophile who had been tracked down and burned to death by angry parents years ago, and who now stalks his former victims and murders them in their dreams. After Nancy (Rooney Mara) discovers she may be able to lure Freddy into the real world where he’s beholden to the same physical laws of the universe that we are, she and her new boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), go to Freddy’s old lair beneath the Badham Preschool where they rediscover their collectively suppressed victimhood.
Jackie Earle Haley notwithstanding, it’s apparent immediately that the cast is not up to the task of turd-polishing the script’s clumsy and subtext-free dialogue. Mara’s Nancy is emotionally flat and spends too much time as an unengaged and passive observer to the film’s events rather than proactively pursuing specific wants and needs. This combination of lightweight acting and bad writing undermines the plot’s structural integrity and removes tension from a scenario in which that void shouldn’t be possible. Gallner’s Quentin is perhaps the most engaging of our teen victims – that is to say he doesn’t act as if he’s been sedated, but even so, without competent direction he merely seems to fall back on what he’s done in other projects. He plays the sweat-soaked, frantic kid on the brink, using the exact same moves and mannerisms he did as the sweat-soaked, frantic kid on the brink in A Haunting in Connecticut.
This brings us to what most of you are probably wondering. How does Jackie Earle Haley stack up as Freddy Krueger? The Freddy character has the important distinction of not being a silent stalker hiding behind a mask. He has a well-defined face, voice, and personality and unlike Kane Hodder’s Jason, Freddy really is inseparable from Robert Englund. This puts Haley behind the eight ball. Despite his untenable position, Haley tries his best to interpret Krueger anew, adding his own quirks such as incessant finger-twiddling with his bladed hand. He also brings a constant rage boiling under the surface that unpredictably bubbles forth, an element that was absent in Englund’s decidedly supernatural Freddy. Even so, the script doesn’t offer Haley much to work with and Englund’s portrayal haunts every one of Haley’s scenes.
One of the film’s biggest missteps is its elaboration and alteration of the reason Freddy does what he does. In the original, we’re briefly told that Freddy was a child murderer. After he was arrested and tried, he was let off on a technicality which prompted the mob of angry parents to track him down and burn him to death. Years later, once the surviving kids are on the precipice of adulthood, Freddy returns to kill them in their dreams. This is simple and it makes sense, once a murderer, always a murderer. However, in the new film we’re told that Freddy was a pedophile rather than a murderer. Years later, all his former victims are alive prior to Freddy inhabiting their dreams. Yet, none of them remember Freddy, or the abuse, or even knowing each other as little kids. And inexplicably, the dream-inhabiting Freddy now wears the iconic bladed glove and kills his victims, foregoing his proclivity for sexual atrocities. Not only does the remake offer this disconnected and implausible mess as the explanation for the film’s events, but it focuses on it.
After all the blood has dried and the glove is put away, it’s clear that Samuel Bayer is responsible for A Nightmare on Elm Street’s failures. To be fair, he’s not the only one. I mean, he didn’t hire himself to direct the movie, but it’s ultimately his lack of a proper skill set that sinks this ship. Bayer has never directed a film before. He’s shot hundreds of music videos and commercials and the only thing that has in common with filmmaking is that both activities involve cameras. Movies tell complex stories via whatever the camera shows us. It’s the director’s responsibility to show us the right things at the right times, including performances that hit the right notes, and shot compositions that convey more than what’s literally onscreen. Samuel Bayer is fully capable of filming things that are technically polished and nice looking, but he’s woefully unequipped to tell stories with the nuance and complexity that most movie goers expect.
If the decision to keep remaking classic horror movies is based on whether or not those remakes are any good, then A Nightmare on Elm Street would assuredly be this trend’s coup de grâce and we’d all be rejoicing at the inevitable return of fresh ideas to the big screen. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. There’s still money to be made and while we’ll continue to be given one bad remake after another, the horror movie genre slowly atrophies.
1 out of 5 Flames
Review by Jason Thorson