Archive for slasher

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Playing Devil’s Advocate (sort of)

Posted in Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2010 by flicksmix

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010

Theatrical release 4/30/10, DVD release 10/5/10

In honor of Halloween, the clear place to start is with the new Nightmare on Elm Street, out on DVD this month. It stars Jackie Earle Haley (if you don’t know who he is, you’re missing out so go look him up) as Freddy, and Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander in the forthcoming Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as Nancy. Directed by Samuel Bayer.

It’s safe to say that, critically speaking, almost nobody likes this movie – and it’s possible I’m being overly kind by throwing that “almost” in there. However, it’s important to note that critics have a general distaste for the genre, so the fact that they don’t like it is neither surprising nor terribly relevant if you’re a fan.

But then, even most of the blogs and online chatter from fans is vehemently negative and a bit dismissive.  So I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate by treating this film like it deserves some respect and thoughtful attention.  Because it does.  Any film that generates as much passionate noise as this one has earned at least that.

So who should consider watching this movie in the first place? There are a few groups: open-minded Freddy/NOES fans, slasher fans, horror fans, JEH fans, folks curious about Rooney Mara or Kyle Gallner, die hard cinephiles who watch everything, and sadists. If you don’t fall into one (preferably at least two) of these categories, it’s probably not for you. And please note that I said open-minded fans, because that’s imperative. If you’re one of those people uber dedicated to Wes Craven’s version, or can’t see anyone besides Robert Englund as Freddy, don’t do it. The two pieces are like night and day (or dream and nightmare).  There’s no shame in your love for what came first, so stick with the classic and skip the reboot. Also, the Twilight obsessed can pass; almost all of Kellan Lutz’s few moments on screen are in the trailers. But you’ll probably watch it anyway, because that’s how you roll. More power to you for your dedication.

Below I’ve gone through the parts of the film that stood out to me, for better or worse. If you don’t want detail, just read the list. If you like a little detail, click on the topic and read as much or little as you want.

LIKED

Opening credits

Overall Look

Subtle homage to horror

Music

Subtle homage to original NOES

Dream sequences

Darker tone

New Freddy

Makeup

DIDN’T LIKE

Truth “revealed”

One-liners

Cheesy slasher gore

Characters (Freddy aside)

Backstory as monologue

UNDECIDED ABOUT

Blatant “homage”

Freddy burning scene

Unburned Freddy

Mind function after murder

IMPORTANT TO NOTE

Scary? Not really, but creepy and squirmy, particularly the dialog between Freddy and Nancy. There are some jumpy moments, and some suspense while waiting for Freddy’s inevitable appearance in a dream.

T&A? No

Sex? Strong sexual content, but no sex

FINAL THOUGHTS

It feels like there are two different films in this reboot, neither one complete. Despite some of its debatable content in the first two acts, I was really along for the ride, pretty impressed overall, and excited for the climax. Then when I got to act three it just felt like the whole thing fell apart, as if I was watching something completely different.

This film had some really great potential, and there are elements of it that I applaud. I get the distinct sense that the parties involved in the film’s creation had a vision and passion for the project, and I always love that. Unfortunately I also suspect that some of that vision and passion got compromised and over-thought, and what was left is more than a little lacking. They clearly worked hard to maintain parts of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy I knew and loved, yet put equal and opposing effort into making them new. If they had picked one or the other, they probably would have found more people willing to embrace this reboot. Instead, they alienated everyone. The viewers who wanted to see a serious Freddy got a serious let-down right when it mattered most, and the viewers who wanted the campy Freddy were strung along for over an hour before he showed up – and were probably still disappointed, because I have to say that aspect is better suited to Englund’s Freddy.

I understand that Jackie Earle Haley and Rooney Mara are already signed up for more of these, if they’re produced. I’m all for that, but here’s my two cents:

  1. Stick with the serious, and throw out the jokes. As mentioned, the funny Freddy is still effective; it’s the scary Freddy that needs life.
  2. Keep to the horror, ditch the typical slasher fare. If watching the third act of this film has taught me anything, it’s that “serious” and “slasher” do not go together.

VERDICT: LIVE WITH IT

The potential this film showed saved it from a “Lament It,” and the things it did well deserve much more than a “Leave It.”

If you’re in one of those viewer categories listed and you’re curious, go ahead and take a stab at it (yuck, yuck, yuck).   Realistically, if you’re curious at all I’d say give it a try no matter what your tastes, ’cause if you’re curious, there’s something about it that seems appealing.  I suggest going in with intent to appreciate certain aspects of the film, rather than to enjoy it as a whole. It’s probably best to borrow it from a friend or Netflix it – I think for most people this is a film to watch once for the experience, not to have around for multiple viewings.  Then of course there are people like me who have seen it four times and counting.

Dream well.

FAVORITES

Line

“You smell different.” – Freddy Krueger

Character

Do you really have to ask? Freddy, of course!

Scene

Snow dream

Image

Micro-nap transition from drugstore to boiler room

LEAST FAVORITES

Line

Sadly, a lot to choose from here, but ultimately a tie between “why don’t we hang out?” and “how’s this for a wet dream?” – Freddy Krueger

Character

Kris’ mom

Scene

Kris and her mom in the dining room. The dialog is painful, the acting unconvincing, and chemistry between the actors is completely absent. Thankfully it’s a short exchange.

Image

Pulling scissors out of eyeball. Well done, I must admit, but as mentioned it feels like that style of gore is incongruous with the rest of the film.

Thanks for reading!

LIKED

Opening credits

Exquisite! One of the best parts of the whole film; it’s a story in itself. Bayer makes fantastic use of his music video background here. Very visually interesting, a good presentation of the film’s mood, beautifully shot and edited, the music is perfect – it all works to set the tone very well, and even has flickers of meaning. This is poetry.

Overall Look

No matter how debatable the content may be, this film is rich to look at. The set designs are intricate and distinct, the shadows are used to great effect, and almost every shot is beautiful. I’d almost call it criminal that not a single review I’ve read even mentions this.

Subtle homage to horror

I revel in the way it conjures images from some other horror films, intentionally or not.

The young version of Kris looks more than a little Carol Anne in Poltergeist.

Kris’ attic, with its windows and wooden interior, is vaguely reminiscent of the upstairs room with the windows (eyes?) in The Amityville Horror.

Quentin’s first dream starts with an image of a leafless tree on the horizon, much like the tree in The Ring.

And last but not least, as Quentin and Nancy are driving along and Freddy runs them off the road, the surroundings brought to mind the party scene in a cornfield from none other than Freddy vs. Jason.


Music

The score is ominous, creepy, appropriately dark, and powerful. On occasion it uses the same music as from the original, but it’s certainly a new interpretation. Overall it’s a little like the music from The Dark Knight, which is also wonderful. It can be somewhat repetitive when listening to it as an album, but well done nonetheless. It does a good job at enhancing certain scenes without being too overt or distracting.

I love the choice to add in “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” performed by the Everly Brothers. It plays during the film, and the end credits. On both occasions it is expertly timed and totally made me chuckle.

Subtle homage to original NOES

The music, as mentioned briefly above, does an excellent job of showing reverence to the original while taking on new life for the reboot.

Visually, there are two nods in the third act that I enjoyed:

1) In the original, as Nancy runs upstairs she finds her progress hampered as her feet get stuck in some sludgy gooey stuff. In this film, she is running down the hall and ends up plunging into a pool of blood instead. Altered presentation of the same idea, and that’s what I enjoy about it.

2) Just a few beats later in the new film, the same pool of blood rushes through Nancy’s bedroom ceiling, and she falls out onto her bed. This is kind of a flip-flop of Johnny Depp’s death scene in the original – the bed opens up and he is sucked inside, then the pool of blood comes rushing out onto the ceiling. This is a great, creative way of tapping into the original but maintaining attention on the new. Well done.


Dream sequences

General consensus seems to be that Bayer should have done more to explore the dreamscape. Forget that noise; I don’t agree in the least that the arguably ordinary nature of the dreams is due to a lack of creativity or vision. In fact, quite the opposite, I suspect this is a very careful and guided choice.

One of the major fear factors Bayer tries to utilize is the uncertainty of whether or not a character is dreaming; they don’t know, and sometimes I don’t either. Occasionally I realize a character is dreaming at the same time he/she does, and that’s just cool. It would be lost if the dreams started out too sensationally.

Also, it’s arguably more true to the story to keep the scope of the dreams limited to the characters’ past and present surroundings. Freddy asserts that it is their memories that fuel him, so it makes sense that he would keep the locations/occurrences specific and clear enough to bring those memories out. He’s fueling the memories that in turn fuel him. The dream world is his; he makes it what he chooses to serve his purpose. Going outside of their experiences would not serve his purpose.

The only down side here is that while they tell me through dialog that the memories give him power, they don’t show me. One would think his strength would grow as the teens remember more and more, but it doesn’t. In that regard, nothing really changes, so this assertion is not demonstrated. Still, a good idea.

Darker tone

Taking this story back to its darker and more serious roots was a good call. If I want a campy Freddy to laugh at, and with, the previous films still take care of that effectively. I agree with filmmakers and cast members that the original NOES was of a more serious tone than the rest, but because it’s rather dated now it doesn’t have the same impact. This film updates the scarier version of Freddy, which I loved, and presents it for a newer viewing generation, which a remake should always do.

My only gripe here is that things seem to get lightened quite a bit in the third act, where the traditional Freddy one-liners and slasher gore come out with force. That feels like a full 180 degrees from the first three quarters of the film. Until then, the darker tone suits the story well.

New Freddy

Hand-in-hand with the darker film tone comes slashing a darker and creepier Freddy. He’s always been a sadistic bastard, but here they (mostly) trade out the campy jokester for a depraved and vicious predator. This Freddy is not about fun. He’s about pleasure. He finds torturing and mangling his victims sickeningly stimulating. His movements, vocal inflections and paralanguage, timing, and sexual nature work well with the serious tone to give this Freddy a chilling new edge.

Makeup

I am one of those that thinks the makeup for Freddy’s face is excellent. There is a lot of debate online over this, and I would find that surprising except I know there’s nothing everyone will ever agree on (not even taxes).

The primary complaints are that it looks too plastic, and that it seems to inhibit any emotional expression. As far as the plastic look goes, I guess I can see how one might make that argument, but I’m not convinced. All I’ve read, almost from day one, is how hard they worked to ground Freddy’s new face in reality. Having never seen an actual burn victim, and not having the heart to look for images, I accept (with admitted ignorance) that they were successful. It looks convincing enough for me.

Regarding the impression that there is too much makeup to allow Freddy any facial expression, I flatly disagree. I have a hunch that people are mistaking a lack of emotion with a lack of being able to see Freddy’s face clearly. It is certainly true that the makeup obscures many of the facial features we rely on to interpret expression, but I think that’s a direct result of the intent to make him look like a genuine burn victim. Combine that lack of facial definition, then, with the fact that Freddy keeps to the shadows in most of the film, and it might be easy to walk away thinking there was no emotion. However, in my viewings I saw anger, rage, surprise, cruelty, intent, and even pleasure. Those are just what I remember off the top of my head, and that’s a commendable range for an actor whose entire head is enclosed in prosthetics.

I also appreciate the more typical makeup in this film. I primarily note the makeup on Kris at the funeral – she has been crying, and the eyeliner is running. Though this seems a little odd, because any female knows to wear waterproof if she’s going to a funeral (or watching Steel Magnolias), it’s still pretty cool that they attempted to bring such reality to it.

Likewise, Gwen (Nancy’s mother) looks very natural.

The teens even look appropriately exhausted and messed up for their circumstances. Yes, for the most part they look very emo, but they also act that way, so at least there’s some consistency.

DIDN’T LIKE


Truth “revealed”

In Freddy’s burning scene/dream, the still-alive Krueger screams his innocence of any crime to the mob of parents outside. His sincere protests and extreme fear allowed me a flicker of identification, and contemplation of his innocence, just as he suffers his horrible fate. This is compounded by the discovery moments later that the parents torched him with no real proof of his alleged crimes. So did he do it, or not?

Though my mind did entertain the notion of Fred Krueger’s innocence, it only did so to justify sympathizing with his character. Freddy’s behavior towards the teens has already implied his guilt by this point. Thus, when the truth comes out in the “magic cave,” it is merely a confirmation of what I already knew. Unfortunately the scene plays like it’s supposed to be a reveal, which is not only tedious for the time it takes, but also makes me feel like my intelligence as an audience member has been insulted.

Moreover, while Freddy’s guilt is merely a confirmation for me, it’s more like news for Nancy. This is a major emotional turning point, and I should be on this ride with her right now. I’m not. Instead, I’m busy berating myself for ever even considering that Freddy might be innocent, and dealing with the sick feeling in my stomach because I did. One could argue Nancy is doing the same, but it seems more likely she’s dealing with the realization of what she experienced.  My attention is also drifting from her because, if I’ve just been slapped in the face (however unsurprisingly) for identifying with one character (Freddy), the last thing I’m going to do at this moment is repeat the mistake with a different one (Nancy).  As such, I have no hope of feeling for Nancy in what she’s going through, and so I embark on the rest of the story as a dispassionate viewer, when I should be rooting and caring for the heroine.

If I had to guess one part of the movie that really lost a lot of people, I’d bet it’s this one.

One-liners

For all the assertions they made that they were making a more serious Freddy, they certainly revert to the Freddy of old in a lot of the third act. “How’s this for a wet dream?” Really? Gag me. I might be able to tolerate it by itself, but it comes so soon after the horrid “why don’t we hang out?” that I don’t have time to recover. Just kill me now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the old Freddy, but this Freddy is not the same guy. These lines are out of place and make a mockery out of the serious tone they adopted.

Cheesy slasher gore

One might expect a lot of gore in this film, but for most of it there isn’t much. Then they throw some of it in, again in the last act. Yucky scissor-eyeball gunk, bone-snapping sounds after a throat slicing. These things are not out of place in a slasher movie, but they feel incongruous because, for the most part, the reboot feels like they were going for horror over slasher. The two really don’t mix well.

Characters (Freddy aside)

I’ve read a lot of complaints about the melancholy, emo nature of the teen characters. Actually, I don’t have a problem with that. Considering the generally unhappy nature of teens anyway, the emo movement, the characters’ pasts, and their current predicament, their dispositions are pretty believable. However, what does bother me is the lack of depth. The story progresses, but none of the characters evolve. There’s no real access point to identify with anyone, so it’s just a bunch of kids run around trying to save their own skins. I’m not sure if that’s a result of the acting (sometimes questionable) or dialog (often painful) or both, but either way it’s a major missed connection with the audience.

The parental characters don’t need too much attention, save one thing that’s really minor but gets my dander up. Nancy asks Gwen a couple of questions. Gwen fibs. Later, Nancy finds out the truth and tells Gwen to stop lying to her. Gwen protests over and over again that she was not lying; she just didn’t want Nancy to remember. Yeah, well, answering something untruthfully is STILL LYING! No matter the reason, the word’s definition is pretty darn clear, and her protests to the contrary are intolerable.

However, much as that irks me, I must concede that this exchange seems very believable as a real-life scenario. What can I say? Pet peeve.

Backstory as monologue

I wish they would have done away with Gwen’s monologue here as she conveys what happened at the school. It might just be there because that’s how the audience and Nancy find out what happened in the original. However, the original was low budget, so they did what they could with what they had. This film didn’t have that problem, so revealing some major backstory in this way feels uninspired; it was disappointing.

On the other hand, the series of shots they use to show what happened as well was appreciated. The filmmakers deserve props for playing show and tell this time, not just tell.

UNDECIDED ABOUT


Blatant “homage”

I’m pretty torn about the more obvious bits taken from the original:

Kris’/Tina’s death scene,

Freddy in the wall over a sleeping Nancy,



and of course the bathtub moment.

There are probably more, but these are what I recall. These parts serve their purpose in that, as a fan of the original, it gives me some enjoyment to see them again. On the other hand, everyone clearly put a lot of effort into making this a different film, and I embrace it as such, so seeing these blatant tributes is jarring and distracting. However, since they did repeat these images from Wes Craven’s version, I’m very glad they decided to change the scenes up a bit. That was a good choice, as it just reminds me of the original instead of completely redirecting focus to it.

Freddy burning scene

I actually loved watching this scene in all viewings. It moves well, it’s interesting and well shot, and best of all they showed me what happened to Freddy instead of telling me in another monologue. However, I think there’s an error here. It is supposed to be Quentin’s dream that I’m watching, yet while the scene moves back and forth between the interior and exterior, Quentin remains standing outside. In all the other dream sequences the film sticks with the dreamer, so changing that up here seems inconsistent. It’s true that this dream is altogether different from any other, so the same rules don’t strictly apply, but I can’t shake the feeling that this particular incongruity was more of an oversight than a choice.

I also love the end of the dream, when Freddy runs out in flames and his burning face is in close-up.

It really drags me into Freddy’s experience, and this whole sequence gives me a moment to sympathize with him. That makes for a strong, visceral reaction later when all things come to light. This is a real credit to Bayer, because the truth is not the least bit surprising.

Unburned Freddy

I like that we get to see the unburned Freddy and his interaction with the kids, but there is something that just feels a little off about the voice. It has a bit of a drawl and some really heavy Rs. I can’t say why, but it just doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s because it’s so different from the way all the other characters speak. However, it’s consistent with burned Freddy’s speech, which is very creepy and effective.

Mind function after murder

During several dream sequences, Freddy’s victims are shown strung up, bloodied and butchered practically beyond recognition. However, the damage to these characters’ bodies in their death scenes is not nearly so extensive. Why the discrepancy? Freddy explains: after he’s made the killing strike, their minds continue functioning for seven minutes, so he’s still able to slice and dice them in their nightmares for a good amount of time after they’re dead. This is a great and new concept that gives Freddy a lot more scare power. The filmmakers could have done a lot with it, and I don’t just mean gore. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

If the idea had been presented early, I might have ended up cringing for a bit after every death scene, knowing the torture the victims are going through. Instead, it’s not conveyed until the opportunity for real impact is gone. Admittedly the story’s structure doesn’t easily lend itself to bringing this up earlier, but I still wish they’d given it more direct attention.

In addition, the first time they show the victims hanging like that I have no idea what happened. It’s very obvious the bodies are in worse shape than when last seen, but I don’t know why. Thus, my reaction is more of confusion than shock/horror. The confusion doesn’t last long, because Freddy explains within a couple of minutes, but it still takes me out of the film at a time when I’m supposed to be absorbed.

This unfulfilled potential almost stings. It could have added a new and interesting dimension, but instead it’s addressed so briefly I doubt most viewers would notice it at all. Major bummer.

***Please note that none of the images contained herein belong to me.  No copyright infringement is intended.***