Sometimes when I go see horror movies I feel like one of those Olympic judges.
Horror is such a visceral experience, it goes so directly for the gut, that once you've seen enough of these you become somewhat inured to the experience. You know exactly when the killer is gonna step out of the shadows or when the ghost is gonna appear in the reflection that you find yourself dispassionately grading the methodology. Good scare here, good use of lighting, oh there's a scare that relies too heavily on a music spike. 8.5
On one hand, I think I'm better able to evaluate the storytelling merits without being overwhelmed by the simple tricks of the genre. On the other hand, I lose the ability to really get sucked into movies, especially when they have as much emotional resonance with me as Friday the 13th.
If you're the type to poke around horror message boards like yours truly, you will see that the people have a strong affinity for the Friday series, often completely out of proportion to the actual quality of the movies. A lot of people enjoy the pure laughable cheesiness of the series, especially the earlier iterations, but there are a lot of people who really love Jason Voorhees, who try to puzzle out his motivations and set him up as the representative for their id.
I totally get that. I'm one of those people who take Friday the 13th a little too seriously.
I came across Friday the 13th when I was in my tween years, when I was enrolled in the most elite private school in San Francisco at the time. My parents were going through an ugly divorce and I hit puberty surrounded by the richest, prettiest little bastards in the city. I felt like an outsider and I channeled that negative mojo into adoration of this larger-than-life monster. Those times are long past and I cleaned up well, but there's enough of that shy introverted kid in me to still love monsters. And Jason stands at the top of the heap.
And man, did he come back in style.
The filmmakers decided to ditch the hulking zombie that Jason has become since part six and re-imagine him as an intelligent, fast moving hunter, setting traps and baiting his victims. He's human again, still trapped in the state of arrested development and mother-worship, and the subterranean lair he's made for himself is one of the coolest creepy locales I've seen in awhile. Derek Mears, the actor who dons the hockey mask in this incarnation, has the right predatory physicality and rage for the role, imbuing the character with the most style since Kane Hodder made the role his own.
As for the movie itself, I'm struck by how old-school the whole experience was. Sure, the camera work is much more modern and stylized than the static-camera shots were in the original series, the acting is several steps better, and dialogue is more punchy and beat-beat-beat than the talking-heads exposition scripts from before, but the basic conventions of the genre remained intact. People still find the same hoary old reasons to wander off alone, couples still venture into places no sane person would go, people still say the same old groaning cliche shit they've said for twenty years. The clothes are different, the cell phones have to be acknowledged, and the male leads' hair gets more feathered, but the story tropes essentially remains the same.
The movie is very lean, as befits its low budget roots. There isn't a whole lot of set-up, the main action is confined to a couple of sets, and the filmmakers don't pad out the pacing Scream-style with a whole bunch of teen drama style. I liked director Marcus Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and he manages to make the scares effective, with a good mix of tension and jump scares. There is one really good, really sudden arrow-in-the-head scare that dropped the shock train on me.
The script, by Freddy vs. Jason scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, wasn't as strong as I'd hoped. I thought their FvJ script was punchy and surprisingly engaging, but this one was a wincer. There's always a little bit of social tension between slasherbait in these movies but the core group of doomed campers don't actually seem to like each other and it's hard to imagine they'd spend five minutes in the company of Lead Asshole, let alone go up to his cabin for the weekend. The token black guy got stuck with the same "it's because I'm black" race baiting jokes you've seen before, there's a whole bunch of "I don't think we should be here..../Oh relax, no one's gonna see us....", and people merrily wander off into the dark in search of missing comrades even knowing they're most likely dead.
Worst of all, the wrong people wind up dead.
This was a problem I had with FvJ. The leads were both unmemorable actors and uninteresting characters. The secondary characters, particularly the token boozer played by Ginger Snaps' Katharine Isabelle, were much more engaging and interesting. This time around it's Aaron Yoo, playing unfortunately-named stoner Chewie.
I really liked Aaron Yoo in other roles, particularly his turn in the otherwise forgettable Disturbia, and he was easily the best actor in the movie. They didn't give him much to do, aside from the typical comedy relief/slaughtered lamb thing, but he was interesting and engaging and natural in a way the other performers weren't. He does a fantastic job projecting the nervous, insecure energy of young people and he made his victim an actual character.
The movie lost me when he was killed off, particularly since it was the most horrible, punishing death of the movie. We're instead supposed to sympathize with Danielle Panabaker's character Jenna, who is the one type of final girl I dislike the most: the one who KNOWS her boyfriend is an asshole, spends screen time apologizing to other characters for his behavior, but never stands up or confronts him for it.
So, yeah, the characterization sucks. Even poor Jared Padalecki, who I met at Comic-Con and was very nice, doesn't get much to work with. He's a fine actor and his exchanges with Lead Asshole are the best character moments of the movie, but the writers give him nothing to do but bug people about his sister and ride around on a rickety motorcycle with the most feathered hair I've ever seen on a male lead.
Come to think of it, this was the most male-feathered-haired movie I've seen in ages. It's a wonder Jason could get any weapons through those luxurious males to the sweetmeats nestled inside. Watch and discuss.
Also, this movie has the loudest flashlights I've ever seen. Every time they pass over the screen there's a lightsaber wooosh.
Anyway, those are my nickels and dimes. In the end I liked it. It held to the form and had some good jump moments, even if many were sound-spike cheats. It's probably only going to have lasting appeal with the die-hards, but it's a fun night at the slasher flicks.