Shhh. Don't tell anyone, but I already outlined my review before going to see the movie. Here's the outline, unedited:
1) Jackie Earle Haley brought the scare back. Platinum Dunes knows how to cast 'em. 2) I hate hate HATE the constant soundtrack spike jump scare. 3) Teenagers bore me. 4) Harp on the whole "Freddy was always a pedophile" argument again. 5) Fun but dissatisfying, like McDonalds or sex with an ex.
Most of my little predictions turned out to be correct. Jackie Earle Haley was genuinely creepy. No disrespect to Robert Englund, but Freddy had become way too cartoony over the course of the series. You had to clean the slate completely over the course of a reimagining and, love 'em or hate 'em, Platunim Dunes knows how to cast a monster.
I very carefully avoided reviews of the movie before seeing it. I heard through the grapevine that it wasn’t getting good reviews, but horror movies never do. I did chance on Roger Ebert’s review of it where he accused Wes Craven of being the “Ray Kroc of horror”, which I found both distasteful and dismissive. It’s no secret that he doesn’t care for a lot of the stuff I really like and it’s no secret he’s become the crazy old coot who constantly rails against the things my generation does, but his review is very flip and he completely blows off the contribution Craven has made to our cultural landscape. You don’t have to like ‘em, but creating monsters is just as valid and valuable as any other art form. It’s meant a lot to me, at any rate.
I don’t think I cared for the movie all that much. The nicest thing you could say about it was that it was unambitious. There’s a lot of subtextual meat on Nightmare’s bones that the filmmakers don’t particularly seem interested in exploring. It’s just happy to scream in your face every few minutes. The screenplay is terrible, with character moments constantly interrupted by god-awful dialogue that sounds leaden and off-key. The only time the movie really comes alive is when Freddy is on-screen.
One thing that struck me as most interesting about the new Freddy was how different his characterization felt. The original Freddy was evil in a kind of simplistically joyful way; he basically gets off on hurting people. We don’t really have a sense of who he is prior to his death and he carries off his role of dream murderer with a malicious glee that made him curiously likeable. We don’t think too deep on his crimes because he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Haley’s Freddy is much, much angrier. We see him when he’s alive and it’s clear he’s a very sick man. In the flashbacks of his life, he portrays Freddy as apparently suffering from a mild form of retardation, and his death at the hands of the enraged parents is almost tragic. His Freddy isn’t the callow sneering demon of the Robert Englund day. The new Freddy is a sniveling little shit made monstrous by his murder.
He’s also got a more specific reason for going after his victims. While the original Freddy seemed to be targeting all the kids in Springwood, the new Freddy is killing the children who told their parents about his hidden playroom and the terrible things he did to them. One of the movie’s big redeeming factors for me was that it dealt explicitly with something that has always run through Freddy’s mythology, which were his crimes as a child molester.
There’s a lot of fans in the horror community who are up in arms over Freddy being “recast” as a pedophile. I don’t really get that. It’s always been fairly clear to me from the get-go that he was a child molester. His taunting has always had a leering, sexual edge and the only reason they never went into it in depth is that pedophilia is always a taboo subject, even in a gory horror film. Slasher movies have always had a preoccupation with sexuality and the leering gaze, but Freddy has always been pretty explicit about his predilections. Really, why does he always have little blonde girls following him around, showing victims the boiler room and saying “this is where he takes us…” This movie deals heavily with repressed memory and the long reach of childhood sexual trauma. The characters haven’t healed from it and it reaches out to affect their lives. The scene where the two remaining kids find Freddy’s hidden chamber is genuinely disturbing in a way very little of this movie is.
One of the things that ties into the motif is the parent’s conspiracy of silence. Slasher movies are always about isolating the teenagers from their forces of authority, usually by getting them into an abandoned something-or-another. Here, the isolation comes from the parents not believing the kid’s admittedly outlandish claims and concealing their complicity in Freddy’s murder.
The rest of the cast is pretty good too. I never quite warmed up to this movie’s version of Nancy. She’s really cute and kinda looks like Felicia Day from The Guild, but her performance is wildly uneven. Is she the aloof, guarded artist? The shy loner? The angry teenage rebel? She’s more interesting than the bland fake-out final girl we initially follow, but she’s ultimately too impenetrable to win my sympathies. The male characters are slightly more interesting. Aside from being better actors, they portray the stress and fear of crossing over into Freddy’s hellish world much more believably. I don’t’ remember where I read this, but I remember that Thomas Dekker gave an interview where he said that he wanted to portray Dean as scared out of his mind, rather than as the stoic male lead we’ve come to expect. He did a great job and I’m never going to be more creeped out by the words “We’ve still got six minutes to play.”
It’s also funny to note that Friday the 13th’s Aaron Yoo has a cameo appearance as another one of Freddy’s victims. I like that guy, but every time I see him some maniac uses his face as a speed bag. At the rate he’s going I feel Platinum Dunes owes the poor guy a chance to balance the books. Maybe when they inevitably get around to remaking Child’s Play he can stuff Chucky into an industrial-grade printing press or something.
I really liked the whole notion of the micro-naps. One of my favorite parts of all the Freddy movies are how the real world and the dreaming world intersect as the victims become more and more sleepy. This movie gives a stronger reason for this phenomena, and some really trippy stuff starts to happen. I particularly liked the bit in the pharmacy, where Freddy’s dream-self takes big swipes at Nancy, knocking over stuff from the shelves.
In the end, I guess I was vaguely disappointed by it. It was nice to see Freddy doing his thing again and I really liked Haley’s performance in the role, but there wasn’t a lot more to the movie besides jump-shock scares. I try to be kinder about Platinum Dunes movies than a lot of my fellow commentators, especially because they’re keeping my favorite icons alive, but they seem to think of horror as a sledgehammer with which to bludgeon an audience. All the classic scenes from the original are there, but they're amped up to ten. The girl doesn't crawl up the wall, she's violently slammed around the bedroom. Freddy doesn't eerily stretch out of Nancy's wallpaper, he pushes out of it like bad CGI from The Haunted. Sigh.
There’s very little attempt to building any real tension or creating any sort of creeping dread. I get a bunch of jolts, which always leaves me twitchy and nervous, and I can leave the movie behind at the theater. It doesn’t follow me home, it doesn’t tuck me in bed late at night, it doesn’t stand over me while I sleep, waiting for me to open my eyes.
What’s worse is that, even though they work in a very formulaic subgenre, the movies Platinum Dunes have made come off feeling very cold. The people involved are too experienced and professional to make movies that have the weird amateurish enthusiasm of the classic slasher flicks. The stars are all very good looking and marketable, the camera work is very skilled, and the watching the movie feels like watching a technically skills if emotionless ballet. Bitch about Zombie's Halloween remake all you want, but at least that had soul. It was ugly, unpleasant soul, but it was there.
Walking away from the movie, I sort of wondered if the makers actually have any reverence for the genre at all, or if they are cynically aware that idiots like me will keep paying money as long as there’s some nostalgia involved.