8 May 2010

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)


A Nightmare on Elm Street
2010, 95mins, 18
Director: Samuel Bayer
Writer (s): Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer, Wes Craven (characters)
Cast includes: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Clancy Brown, Katie Cassidy, Kellan Lutz
UK Release Date: 7th May 2010

In 1984 Wes Craven directed “A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a star was born. I’m not alluding to the filmmakers or even a young Johnny Depp who featured fairly prominently, but rather the movie’s notorious villain Freddy Krueger. Depicted by Robert Englund, Krueger became one of the horror genres most potent icons, the character being granted numerous (and mostly underwhelming) sequels along with becoming a Halloween costume staple for eternity. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” circa 1984 was a great flick, but it’s a case of one particular character upstaging the movie itself. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes approaches this 2010 remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” the same way they seem to with all their vehicles, by attempting to humanize the monster. Recruiting “Watchmen” star Jackie Earle Haley to replace Englund seemed like a decent move, and the presence of music video legend Samuel Bayer behind the camera is more intriguing than insulting; yet “Nightmare” 2010 doesn’t work as a fully fledged piece of art. Individual scenes and several new ideas are rather cool, and Hayley makes a robust Krueger, but ultimately most of the film feels like a pointless march through familiar territory.

The teenagers of Elm Street are experiencing odd nightmares. All of them keep dreaming of a man, clad in a striped sweatshirt, with razor blades on his fingers and a burnt up face. The man calls himself Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley), and in the adolescent’s dreamscapes, he’s always trying to catch and kill them. Still, they’re just dreams, right? Not quite. Everything that Freddy does to the teenagers in their visions also happens to them in reality, meaning that the kids of Elm Street are being bumped off in gruesome and unexplainable ways. With the parent’s stuck in a tight lipped (does Freddy have a link to their children’s past?) and unbelieving state, an exhausted Nancy (Rooney Mara) and buddy Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to uncover who exactly their stalker is, and why he’s coming after them.

This rebooted version of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a picture that works in certain sections, but fumbles itself drastically in others. The opening sequence at a Diner is for instance a buffet of hideous acting and silly jump scares, a scene that gets this remake off to an appalling start. Things don’t brighten up too quickly either, retreads of the famous wall climbing and bathtub scenes are tepid imitations of Craven’s originals, relying too heavily on fast edits and CGI. Samuel Bayer’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a much less menacing picture overall, the director struggling to capture the tense or haunting tone of the original. His attempts at directly replicating moments from Craven’s film feel like bad cover songs, performed by a tribute band that are much more fixated on look than substance. However when left to do its own thing, “Nightmare” 2010 is actually a pretty accomplished feature, bringing stacks of eerie visuals, a villainous back-story and an inspired “micro naps” concept to the party. It’s not enough to make the film anything more than redundantly average, but at least it allows at times for the project to act as watchable entertainment.

The performances are mostly unimpressive. Rooney Mara is a dull Nancy, lacking the likable spark Heather Langenkamp brought in the original picture. Mara never looks capable of fleshing Nancy out, retaining the same monotone delivery and glazed over look for the entirety of this remake. Kyle Gallner is more engaging and good humoured as Nancy’s love interest, managing to find a good balance between depressed fatigue and teenage sass. The rest of the young cast are absolutely dreadful, Katie Cassidy and Kellan Lutz being the chief offenders. Not only does this lifeless duo stink up the movie with a lack of acting ability, but they also look a good 10 years older than any of the other teens in the film. Cassidy in particular looks laughably out of place in a classroom based environment; she appears like a 30 year old supermodel stuck in a class of high school misfits. It’s like viewing a prettier version of “Billy Madison”. Clancy Brown is always a welcome addition to any film, and he’s fine here as Gallner’s Dad; but perhaps more time on the screen would have been beneficial.

As Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley is a competent replacement, and he does his best to use his character’s new paedophiliac heritage to disturbing effect. The added exposition concerning Freddy’s past is icky, but it does provide Haley with an extra dimension of horror to exploit. “Nightmare” 2010 redesigns Freddy’s legendarily scarred face to try and create a more authentic burn victim aesthetic, but it actually just ends up reducing the character’s personality. Haley growls and quips his way through the picture with glee, but the make-up effects just aren’t as fun or deranged here, the new look impressing initially but eventually just grating. Haley remains a good piece of casting, but in the end, would it not just have been more sensible to call a now 61 year old Englund out of retirement? After all, no actor will ever replace him in the eyes the fans.

The original film weaved in and out of dreams brilliantly, tricking viewers into a false sense of safety wonderfully. Bayer manages this a few times, but much of his ethereal cinematography seems overly stylized; giving audiences fair warning when some Freddy mayhem is about to break out. The director deserves full marks for pulling out an obviously gritty and surreal atmosphere, but when contrasted with reality this takes some of the sting out of his tale. The kills themselves are largely just rehashed versions of those seen in the 1984 movie, albeit often with even more gore. One of this project’s best assets is the inclusion of “micro naps”, a scientific anomaly that allows Freddy to pop up at any time during the feature’s second half. This infuses a sense of urgency and originality that sizable portions of this remake are lacking, and it cranks up the suspense considerably toward the productions denouement. It’s hardly enough to save “Nightmare” 2010 from mediocrity, buts it’s a smart enough move to prevent it from closing on a totally tiresome note.

Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a classic, and the film’s bad guy is amongst the very best Hollywood has ever produced. Samuel Bayer’s retread does some stuff correctly and makes a few shrewd moves, but on the whole it’s by far and away the more inferior product. Amongst recent horror remakes it ranks somewhere in the middle ground, falling short of stuff like “The Omen” and even last year’s cheerful “Friday the 13th”, but certainly it’s a more assured vehicle than pictures like “Prom Night” or Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”. That said, Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes have created a fairly pointless film here, more interested in jump scares than truly terrifying material. No matter how many times you’ve seen the original, watching it again will be a better use of your time than catching this remake.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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