Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Review - A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

Once again, I'm poaching (with permission) friend and colleague RL Shaffer's review of a movie that he has seen before myself. In this case, it's the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film finally screened last night, but since my wife wants to see it too, it was too much of a hassle (re - babysitter and weeknight traffic) just to see it two days early. I will likely check it out Friday night or, if work runs over, Saturday night. Anyway, here is RL Shaffer of DVD Future giving us his take on A Nightmare On Elm Street:

A Nightmare On Elm Street
95 minutes
Rated R

by RL Shaffer

Caution: Some Spoilers Ahead

Whenever a remake arrives, critics are faced with a problem: judge the film against its predecessors, or judge it as a standalone work. It's a catch-22. Judge a film as it's own thing and you miss points that might make it an unworthy companion to the original feature. Compare it to the original, though, and you'll look like a nostalgia snob who only likes films from the 1970s and 1980s. And this is what makes judging this remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street so hard, particularly since I'm not against the idea of any remake as long as there's a fresh, exciting story to tell. But, in a way, this latest Nightmare is suffering from the same problem critics often have. The film seems to be attempting, with some effort, to be it's own new vehicle for Freddy Krueger, but it feels completely trapped within the confines and rules of the original film's best gags.

"Tina"-like character starts out the movie, but gets killed while sleeping with her sketchy boyfriend. Check. She's later seen in a bloody body bag. Check. Freddy takes his victims to a boiler room. Check. Freddy nearly attacks Nancy in a bathtub. Check. Nancy faces off against Freddy. Check. Nancy pulls Freddy into "our" world. Check. It's all there -- the classic moments of the original Wes Craven horror film. But none of these scenes really work with the edgier (but oddly inconsistent) narrative, or the newer, creepy dream sequences, for that matter.

In this Nightmare, the driving force seems to be micro-naps -- an effect that renders the victim incapable of telling the dream world from the real world. In other words, a character might be shopping at their local grocery store, and slip right into a terrifying nightmare and not know they're asleep. And this clever little plot device provides some of the film's best scares. Adding to the creepy factor, Freddy seems intent on wearing all of his victims down, plaguing their dreams until they reach this haunting stage. It's sadistic, atmospheric, and frightening, even if Jackie Earle Haley (stepping into the shoes previous worn by Robert Englund) seems to be having absolutely no fun playing our fedora-wearing villain. But that's where this film's ingenuity ends. The story, which unevenly rehashes the plot of the original (even borrowing elements deleted from the film), is a jumbled mess.

There are spots that work terrifically. For example, Freddy is now an accused child molester who's essentially hunted and killed by the parents before he's ever caught and prosecuted. This fixes a major flaw from the first film -- how would police have screwed up a child murdering case so bad that the guy would get off? And how did the parents get away with murdering him afterward? But the story also deletes some of the original film's best subplots. Nancy no longer has a father, for example. So now, the implication that Nancy's mother and Nancy's father divorced following their bout with nasty vigilantism is totally lost here, replaced by a vapid mother character who's so blank she might as well have been left on the cutting room floor.

Even worse, the film is driven by a mystery that results is nothing interesting. We're given this wink, a subtle seed, that Freddy might be innocent -- that the children essentially lied about being molested (think: Capturing the Friedmans) and are being punished years later by an evil ghost. Or worse yet, the real molester is still on the loose, and this "Freddy" character is some diabolical demon pulling the strings (which would put the film in line with Wes Craven's A New Nightmare). But either subplot would lead to too gray an area for a film as shoddy as this to explore. Instead, the filmmakers take the easy way out and fall, once again, in line with the original -- Freddy is still, and will always be, the bad guy.

This, for all intents and purposes, renders this remake pointless. The film adds nothing new to mix, and botches every possible chance it had at being a thought-provoking, terrifying horror film. It even blows a few old school scares by tossing in new school techniques. I'm sorry, but the scene where Freddy pushes through a wall and hovers over Nancy while she sleeps was better when the effect was done using a white bed sheet and good lighting. This new film uses CG that looks to be borrowed from 1996, a la The Frighteners. Freddy's makeup effects are also far less compelling, and scary.

It's sad that both mainstream moviegoers, and filmmakers alike, seem to treat the horror genre like it's a ride and a fun marketing tool, rather than a viable art form. Horror can be artful. It can be rich with texture, character depth and symbolism. In fact, a film that employs such techniques is usually much scarier because we actually care about what we're seeing. It affects us on a subconscious level. In this era of sophisticated remakes, with films like Star Trek, Batman Begins" or Casino Royale, we want our old school cheesy entertainment to be reborn through a sophisticated, mature lens. We want a richer, deeper Nancy. A thoroughly developed back story for Freddy. And scares that get under our skin, and haunt our own dreams. This remake, quite sadly, does nothing of the sort.

Sure, this Nightmare does succeed more often than not at scaring us, even if the scares are far more shallow than the original. And the characters, while fairly bone-headed, are well rounded and likable, particularly once we make our way into the film's shockingly anti-climatic final act. But we do, secretly, want the remake to be better than the first film. Why wouldn't we? And there was certainly room for improvement, too. It's not like the 1984 film was flawless. The film is heavy on melodrama and amateur performances. Hell, even Johnny Depp is pretty terrible in the film. But this latest Nightmare On Elm Street doesn't quite cut it. It's better than most of the older sequels (Nightmare 4, 5, and 6 in particular), but it's never sharp enough to slice deep into our minds and remind us why the original film was so profoundly terrifying -- it was gritty, sadistically sarcastic, haunting and surreal. If the filmmakers were to borrow something from the original, I wish they would have borrowed that instead.

Grade: C+

Side Note:
There's quite a bit of footage seen in this teaser below that's NOT present in the final film. For example, the scene with all the candles, the shot of the two children looking creepy, the pool party, the shot of the kid falling from the house, the dead bodies' eye being opened, the girl running towards the yard furniture and more. Wonder if some post-production tinkering, or reshoots, drove many of the remake's bigger flaws?


JohnH said...

Dear Hollywood/Michael Bay/Rob Zombie/various talentless hack "directors":

Please just stop with the horror remakes. We've already had to endure the desecration of Halloween, The Fog, Friday the 13th, When A Stranger Calls and now Nightmare on Elm Street. There are people in the world called "writers," many of whom have original ideas. Try contacting them; I'm sure they could use the work. In the meantime, please stop producing horrible new versions of perfectly fine films that did not need to be remade in the first place.

That is all.

Vorobiev said...

I kind of expected this film to be mediocre. I agree with the previous poster, and many times, there is no point in making a remake..


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