Perhaps comedian Patton Oswalt said it best when he complained about the Star Wars prequels: “I don’t give a $#!+ where the stuff I love comes from! I just love the stuff I love!” I’m still pretty new to embracing my inner horror junkie, but I imagine anyone who claims Freddy Krueger as their favorite modern movie monster would be irritated by this remake’s insistence to spell everything out that had previously and wisely only been implied with the game-loving terrorist of teenagers’ dreams.
When I first read a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was in the works and that Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off stealing the show as Rorschach in Watchmen, would be providing his own interpretation on the striped-sweater-sporting role Robert Englund made famous, I was supportive. The original 1984 film, directed by Wes Craven, is memorable but severely dated and cheap in appearance. With the movie magic of today, Freddy’s creative ploys and morphing (such as into a phone that licks poor Nancy’s face) could be given some justice, and while I know I’m in somewhat of a minority here, Freddy has never really scared me. His gleeful pride in his work – his willingness to not only search for humor with his villainy but to also fully embrace whatever corniness comes with it, like a silly but admirable uncle – has always been more rewarding than the finishing of the kill. Only his unnecessary (as they always have been) finger-knives could provide the cherries of his malicious sundaes. I hate those damn things – they’re anticlimactic (and like a guy with a deformed face and a fashion sense that juts out really needs another pop-out characteristic). Maybe a remake could truly cause me insomnia…
No such luck with this Final Destination-style retelling. Director Samuel Bayer, working with Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, does allow Freddy to play somewhat and include something a little off (like diagonal bookshelves) in the dream worlds, but we never see Freddy having the fun. This Freddy doesn’t cackle – he flatly snickers a bit. He wants to torture and nothing else aside from stroll to victims while delivering too-long drivel dialog in a deep, gravelly Tom Waits impersonation (bringing new meaning to the term “steam punk!” – ba doomp clank!) Any joy he has comes instead from causing the real world unexplained grief as to why these kids are suddenly killing themselves and/or seemingly each other. What a party animal.
Freddy’s tactics could probably have induced less yawns if the teenagers he was pursuing were interesting or had at least a touch of personality. Rooney Mara, the future star of the American adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, plays Nancy as an anti-social artist fond of macabre and too invested to smile or relate to anyone in the audience. What’s worse is the film’s decision to make her share the role of protagonist with an equally-boring brooding male, played by Kyle Gallner. Together they seek to solve the mysteries of their peers’ deaths and uncover their parents’ reasons for keeping mum about their childhood, meanwhile attacking each other for not choosing to bond until now (Ugh, where are those claws when you need them most?). Teenage characters in slashers flicks are dominoes; sure, they could be designed to do nothing more than fall over, but why not notice the dots and try playing their game by the intended rules too? Something worthwhile could come of it.
The duo eventually learn, after mistakenly labeling their guardians as twisted, that lovable (for no foreseeable reason) gardener Mr. Krueger was privately a child molester, an attribute that’s more fulfilling when it’s not a stone-cold fact. Once a high-pitched wimp, now he’s a disfigured, growling demon that waited till the kids reached their awkwardly melodramatic years (Why? They’re physically stronger!), fine with calling the scene-of-the-crime boiler room his home. After a game of cat-and-mouse for the ultimate showdown, they somehow lure Freddy to the dimension of real life and seem to thwart him and his weakness of tunnel vision. Of course, the film’s final note is that old hammy twist – HE’S STILL AROUND! Roll credits. One can only hope (for story’s sake) Freddy learned from these foolish mistakes before the Nightmare 2 remake.
A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on loud “Boo!”moments for its scares, just like nearly every other Freddy movie, and while this is boring to those of us craving some mind games, it is still enough to at the least move the picture along. An interesting visual or two, like Freddy’s dark, grimy hand emerging from between Nancy’s bare, vulnerable legs in a bubble bath, tends to surface out of nowhere from the all-too-familiar under-lit sets but just not often enough to help form a quality popcorn flick. The original Nightmare was not a good film (and you can tell by Johnny Depp, in his first movie, doing nothing but staying loyal to the formula), but it contained an undertone of female empowerment, something this remake betrays. As far as a contribution to the horror genre, it’s just more filler that had the potential to be much more. For the love of Hannibal Lecter, it even possessed the benefit of an Oscar-nominated actor!
It’s too bad the dream-hopping adventure of Inception hadn’t released until a couple months later – just imagine the playground Freddy could have had.
1.5 out of 5 stars.