Monday, May 3, 2010
For some of us, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is a cultural icon, as Wes Craven brought the world a new villain who was spontaneous, oddly cocky (and not afraid to be loud of it) an unbound by the laws of physics... literally the stuff of nightmares. Now, 26 years later, Samuel Bayer brings his vision of this icon to the screen to see if he can do the substance justice. Known for directing predominantly music videos (most notably "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). Picked for his visual flair, we all wondered... could he pull it off? Fears were assuaged when Jackie Earle Haley (known for his portrayal as Rorschach) was selected to play Freddy, even getting support from Freddy front man Robert Englund! The question everyone asked was if it would all work out? Well... in some cases it did.
The basic plot is extremely similar to the original. After the death of a friend, friends Nancy (Rooney Mara), Kris (Katie Cassidy), Quentin (Kyle Gallagher) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker) slowly start to admit to each other that they have been having nightmares of red sweatered, fedora toting maniac Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley). They wonder why these nightmares plague them, Freddy turns his sight on them. They try to figure out why he's going after them, they soon realize that they have a past with Freddy that has a closer connection than they thought.
What I Liked
The first thing I want to talk about is the visual style. Samuel Bayer really created a great dream world with dark, gritty look, focusing on dark values with either extremely cool or fiery hues. Visually, it does a great job at setting the mood. The boiler room, the classroom transition from reality to the dream world, all done extremely well. So yeah, moody lighting and cinematography effectively used together.
I really liked the opening diner scene in this film (save for the acting of the Dean character, which I'll get into later), once again a prime example of the visual style working in its favor. Even then, the pacing felt just right, aiding in the uneasiness. Expertly shot, with great tension and impending doom.
The cast, for the most part, was competent in their acting. Except for Dean (once again, I'll go more into that later), the cast never felt like they were over the top or underacting. Usually, acting stands out the most in a film, so I'm glad that this wasn't a problem. Jackie Hearle Haley (as expected) stands out as the strongest performer in the film, going in a different route with Freddy this time around, giving him a grungy, menacing tone (think Rorschach). When we dwelve into his past, he conveys a strange sense of innocence that one doesn't know whether or not to trust. His best line was a response to a "Fuck you!" from Nancy.
Also on the topic of Freddy, I do like the idea of going with Craven's original idea and making him a supposed pedophile rather than a child murder, considering we live in a society in which we consider pedophilia considerably worse than a murderer. This make his possible guilt all the more sinister if he really is what people believe him to be. Also a side note, he did have an ulterior motive to his revenge that, the moment it was revealed, made for an interesting idea.
A new factor added into the story compared to the original was something called "micronaps." Long story short, if you were up long enough, you would start dreaming while you were awake for several seconds due to the brain shutting down, and even worse, without proper sleep, you would be in a permanent state of sleep (basically a coma). It gave a somewhat damned if you do, damned if you don't situation to the film, reminiscent of the Twilight zone episode where the man with a failing heart had a nightmare of a women who would either kill him through fear or make his heart fail if he didn't sleep. In a sense it was a step up in terms of compared to the original in which all they had to worry about was falling asleep normally (although considering you have to worry about Freddy, that's still a big problem regardless).
What I Didn't Like
When "A Nightmare on Elm Street" came out, it was fresh and original. Hearing how the series was being "re-imagined" I was curious to see if they would breathe new life into the series. However, similar to the other Michael Bay produced "reimagining, "Friday the 13th,"" these hopes were dashed. Admittedly, it was even worse in "Elm Street" This movie wasn't really a re-imagining as more of a rehash with a couple changes. The plot and sequence of events were practically the same. Freddy was basically the same with a different tone, and the micronaps, despite being an original factor, didn't really add anything to the story. In essence, it was the same thing with superfluous material. That, while adding tension at moments, slowed down the pace somewhat.
To further the point about the rehash, this resulted in the movie becoming extremely predictable. As I said, overall same plot results in the same things happening, similar/ shot-for-shot scenes (i.e. the glove in the bathtub without the "wake-up" twist and character deaths). Even with the original death in the movie, you'll know EXACTLY how the character is going to die. Even worse, they actually ripped of lines from other movies that shouldn't have been in there (the main one being the "wet dream" line from Elm Street 4). This results in a lot of "no surprise there" moments in this film.
As I said, Jackie Earle Haley did a great job in this movie, but I have to admit, I felt the "grungy" Freddy didn't really fit. There was something that didn't fit about Freddy trying to sound dark while spouting his typical one liners. It just didn't mix that well.
The actor who played Dean in the diner scene was just plain bland. The best way to describe him was watching a blond Keanu Reeves. Generally flat and poor acting. Good thing his presence wasn't long lived (no pun intended)
As for the other characters, they were all just forgettable. Despite decent performances, every one of these characters are basically two-dimensional horror teen stereotypes that everyone's seen before. You have the outcast protagonist, the seemingly punkish bad-ass, the awkward love interest who comes together due to a common problem... it's all stuff we've seen before. With that, I found it really hard to care for the most of the characters (although to Nancy and Quentin's credit, their characters melded quite well). Even Freddy was basically dumbed down to an (even more so) "I'll get revenge on you" character. And as for his ulterior motive, it's basically explore for about 10 seconds. Had something been more properly explored or made slightly more evident throughout the film, it would have made for an interesting dynamic. Alas, it just ended up as a typical "going for the lead" plot point.
Another character note, a very important dynamic character set was missing from this film that helped propel the original: the parents. In the original, the parents played an important role that made not only for a better Freddy, but also an interesting idea of keeping us in the dark, as well "dark" means to reach a better end (i.e. Nancy's dad using Nancy to apprehend her friend). It also created an idea of "our generation will suffer for our ancestors' sins). There in the movie... but that's all they're really there for. Just to be there. All the parents do in this film is hide facts and reveal them whenever convenient for the plot. Without this dynamic, we are stuck with MORE two dimensional characters that we either don't care about or barely aid in the plot. This also results on a weak, typical horror movie revenge plot.
Also lost from the original was that sense of "what's real and what's not." Even with the idea of micronaps implemented, it's pretty easy to tell when they're facing reality and when they're in the dream world. This is one of those problems where the director's style works against him.
PARTIAL SPOILER ALERT! There were some contradictions in this film and plot holes that stood out. A lot of moments such as questioning Freddy's innocence, the ending, and a character death all stood out as illogical, both behind and on the screen. I really don't want to say much, but let's just say certain people question their judgement despite some rather... obvious evidence. As for Freddy's "fate" in the end, once again without giving away too much, it was also illogical (not realistic, just believable on Freddy's part) that he would "play along" with a weakness. This also results in the lack of a proper impact the original had with its famous double-twist ending. It also felt that the supposed "never being able to wake up again" problem had a rather simple solution, feeling a bit anticlimactic. Lastly, Krueger's intentions felt... conflicted. I don't want to give away what his "dastardly, bastardly plan" was, but long story short, he wants one thing and prepares to do the other. Like I said, lot of illogical moments.
Things That Were a Mixed Bag
One thing that people liked about Freddy from way back when was the mystery of the character. In the movie, they decided to explore his history a bit further. On the one hand, it makes him a well developed character. On the other hand, they decide to explore him to the point where he loses his depth. It is a double edged sword that is rather hard to find a balance.
Perhaps it was my fandom of the original series that brought my hopes up... maybe it was the staff involved (a stylistically great director, some once strong writers, and Jackie Earle Haley as a promising Krueger)... but in the end, I was extremely let down. Visually arresting, especially with a great opening, but the substance was dumbed down to your typical horror movie that we all knew what would happen.
A predictable movie that, despite great visuals and a strong performance from Haley, is an empty shell of the original film, lacking its depth, character dynamics, logic, and sense of reality that made the original so effective.