Synopsis: Five teenage friends living on one street all dream of a sinister man with a disfigured face, a frightening voice and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. But when one among them dies, they soon realize that what happens in their dreams happens for real and the only way to stay alive is to stay awake. Buried in their past is a debt that has just come due. To save themselves, they must plunge into the mind of the most twisted nightmare of all: Freddy Krueger. Jackie Earle Haley plays the legendary evildoer in this contemporary reimagining of the seminal horror classic.
eyelights: Freddy’s scissoring of his blades. its intriguing take on the material.
eyesores: its sullen characters. its grim tone. its performances. its lack of imagination. its blandness.
People like to complain about the endless stream of remakes that Hollywood churns out, as though Hollywood is creatively bankrupt. The moment a movie or a franchise is remade, rebooted, remixed, …etc., it’s inevitable that it will be met some criticism.
The thing is, Hollywood is an industry. Industry is not so much concerned with creativity and more so with production. And consumption. Really, industries are interested in making money, and if creative endeavours garner them money, it’s a means to an end.
Hollywood has been ripping itself off from day one. This is nothing new. In the horror genre, the perfect example is 1931’s ‘Dracula’. But even other genres fell victim to creative dearth: case-in-point, ‘The Maltese Falcon’ was adapted three times in ten years.
But the material and/or the vision have to be solid to warrant it.
With ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, the material is stellar: Wes Craven’s original was a wonder of horror and fantasy, ably tapping into its audiences’ primal fears. It was hardly perfect but, by genre and era standards, it was a knock-out. And it holds up really well.
For the 2010 remake, the problem is the vision: the filmmakers, who also rebooted ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘ and ‘Friday the 13th‘, decided to return to Craven’s initial concept and made their picture much darker and their villain much more sinister.
On paper, that may seem like a good idea: Craven’s version of Freddy Krueger was never actually portrayed on screen, in that he was originally intended to be a child molester, but was vetoed by the studio. That makes him not just evil but pretty damned sick.
And, these days, that’s what we want in our horror films, right?
(Let’s not dwell on the fact that Freddy wouldn’t have become an ’80s icon in his original form…)
The trouble is that the filmmakers somehow forgot two crucial elements that had helped make the picture so remarkable: its surrealistic, dreamlike quality, and its inventive, visceral approach to horror. This ‘Nightmare’ looks and feels like cookie-cutter horror.
Except that it’s grim.
The picture is so damned dreary that there’s no way for the audience to enjoy it: it looks gritty, it feels bleak, its characters are sullen, inexpressive. There’s no fun to be found here. I know it’s a horror film, but, usually, they not only spook you, they also entertain.
This one’s flat out depressing.
Now, one could argue that this is contextually appropriate, given its subject matter (we are talking about a bunch of teenagers who were abused as children, after all…). Fine. But there should at least have been some sort of sensory compensation for its dourness.
Sadly, the more stimulating moments in the picture are the ones that recreate iconic ones from the original, such as the claws surging from Nancy’s bubble bath. But they don’t compare, as the crap CGI used to show Freddy stretching out of the wallpaper proves.
Craven’s 1984 practical effects look better even 25 year later.
Even this new Freddy is nowhere near as good as the old one: firstly, the make-up was designed to make him look like a real-life burn victim instead of the stylized version of the first six films. But having a less articulated face takes away from Freddy’s theatricality.
Now he’s more The Phantom with his mask on than with it off.
Though Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent actor, he can’t get beyond his make-up’s limitation. And his muted, mumbly take on Freddy is so far removed from Robert Englund’s that it’s difficult to wrap your mind around it; he’s not at all gleefully macabre or sinister.
The one improvement of his is that he sometimes scissors his glove’s bladed fingers together. Though I think it should have been done more subtly, like a nervous tick, not for show, it’s a nice touch (!). Too bad the filmmakers decided to add sparks and sound effects.
None of the other performers bring anything remarkable to the screen: all of them are fairly weak and their characters are unlikeable. Rooney Mara is especially unwatchable as a despondent and supremely depressing Nancy, the fiery survivor of the original picture.
Mercifully, the first act of the picture has little to do with Nancy and instead follows the über-Socal Kris as she investigates the mysterious deaths and visions that are plaguing her friends. While this was annoying at first, in retrospect it’s a much welcome change.
At least the cookie-cutter blonde was bearable.
Unlike the picture.
Seriously, I was really bored watching this ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. I was so disinterested, in fact, that I frequently considered taking a short break – even before the midway point. It may only be a 95-minute motion picture but, for some reason, it feels much longer.
To make matters worse, it often didn’t make sense:
- Why are the kids all falling asleep all the time? Sure, some have been staying awake for days and can no longer keep their eyes open, or experience “micro-naps” (as Quentin explains at one point), but others are nodding off for no reason. Were they as bored as I was?
(Of course, if not for all this random passing out, there’d be very little Freddy in the picture. So that’s a plus. Unfortunately, one can always tell they’re dreaming because the environments and circumstances are suddenly different or unusual – so there are few surprises here.)
- Why was Kris having visions of herself as a child? Of all the nightmares that Freddy could induce, why would he provide clues to his identity and their back history? Doesn’t he simply want revenge? So why not just take the teenagers into a “playground” that he enjoys?
- How did the cops follow Jesse to Nancy’s place? I mean, I know that there couldn’t have been a lot of blood-covered teenagers running around, but the cops were right behind him – in great numbers. Were they all on standby in the neighbourhood, near her house?
- How could Quentin fall asleep while swimming? Okay, there’s the “micro-nap” argument, but he was participating in competitive swimming. Could Freddy intrude in that split-second moment and take control? Is that it? Wouldn’t Quentin wake up when he started drowning?
- Since when do hospitals leave medication out for anyone to take? Good thing that they had adrenaline shots on hand for Quentin to steal, too, while no one was looking. Convenient.
- Why was Quentin still seeing Freddy despite the adrenaline shot he took? Doesn’t adrenaline prevent these “micro-naps” (if that’s the official excuse for his lapses into dreamtime)?
- Since when can a dorky teenager snap a paper cutter blade? A blade. Made of metal. Snappity-snap. No problemo.
- Why did Quentin shoot adrenaline in Nancy’s chest instead of in her thigh like he did to himself? Did he watch ‘Pulp Fiction’ one too many time? Or was it just an excuse to feel her up? And how could she just be okay having had her heart punctured like that?
Even the ending was a disappointment, with Nancy despatching Freddy quite easily, with the help of the broken paper cutter blade. It’s like: “That’s it?”. But it never is, is it? There has to be a final scare. And this one’s so lame that you’re just left dumbfounded.
“The nightmare is over.”?
Aside for the scissor action, the only thing I thought was cool was that, after killing him, Freddy tells Jesse that the brain is still alive for 7 minutes after death, and he will continue to torture him for the remainder of that time. Wow… that’s downright creepy…
What would have been even more despairing, though, would have been if time played out differently in Freddy’s nightmares – perhaps seven minutes of real time could have been seven hours in dreamtime. Or would that be the other way around: seven seconds?
Either way, it’s not much to play with. This remake of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ takes an original idea and somehow makes it drab as soda crackers. Technically, it’s not a poorly-made film, so I can’t really fail it completely, but it’s not really a movie worth seeing.
Date of viewing: August 23, 2017