If there’s a sudden run on No-Doze and Red Bull, thank the folks over at Platinum Dunes. Their latest effort is a frighteningly crafty film, one that keeps viewers perched on the edge of their seat from start to finish. At long last, New Line is taking Freddy seriously again–and so will you.
The basic premise of the “Elm Street” series is retained for the 2010 makeover; years ago a janitor named Freddy Krueger was hunted down by a group of angry parents determined to get justice from Freddy for harming their children. Trapping Freddy in an abandoned building, the parents burn him alive and sweep this incident under the rug. But Freddy refuses to go quietly into the night, returning when the children have grown into adolescents and murdering them while they dream.
Soon, only two of Freddy’s original victims remain — Quentin and Krueger’s favorite Nancy. With no one to turn to but each other, they must discover who Freddy was, and why the parents of Springwood are so desperate to erase him from memory. But Krueger has plans of his own, specifically for Nancy, whom he plans on trapping in the dream world and endlessly assaulting. The pair head to Krueger’s old lair, hoping to drag him into the real world and kill him once and for all–but he’s waiting for them with plans of his own.
If there ever was a character that cried out to be rebooted, it was Freddy Krueger. Since his introduction in 1984, he began devolving over the course of sequels and a half baked television series; Freddy stopped being scary and became ridiculous, a cartoonish killer spouting one liners while offing teens in predictable fashion. The reboot puts the menace back in Krueger, a nightmare so scary it’d make Carl Jung pack up his archetypes and head for the hills. He still has his patented one liners, but the humor is drained out of them and replaced with an undertow of dread. Inheriting the role is Jackie Earle Haley, and he makes it his own so effectively that when the final credits roll, you’ll be struggling to remember who his predecessor was.
The “Elm Street” remake has more to offer than just an amazing lead, it boasts a whip smart script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer. They take a gamble by introducing Freddy as a mystery, essentially reintroducing him by having the surviving teens piece clues together until the truth is revealed. Crafty move, because by doing this the franchise’s old convoluted mythology is swept away and there’s now a clean slate to work with.
Doing this also allows them to mold Freddy into a more repellent form; he’s not just a killer of children, he’s a sadistic molester with a penchant for innocent little girls. The writers also create a nifty plot device, basically a micro-nap. Sleep deprived characters involuntarily nod off without warning, allowing Freddy to strike anywhere. Granted it’s a bit of a cheat, but it keeps the audience on edge while constantly guessing when Freddy will leap out.
Equally impressive is the direction by Samuel Bayer, a novice film director but an experienced music video helmer. Bayer effectively balances gory kills with shock scares; he spills plenty of blood but is saavy enough to use Freddy’s menace and ability to appear out of thin air to inject fear into the audience. Also admirable is his vision of Freddy’s boiler room, a place the character is most identified with. Under Bayer, it becomes a demonically possessed industrial workplace, complimenting the dark visual poetry so rarely seen in horror films of recent years.
Sadly, the film’s only flaw is a fairly big one: aside from Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy, the rest of the cast seem so bland and generic they’re practically nonexistant. Clancy Brown and Connie Britton appear to be the only adults around and their screen time pretty limited. Most of the performances feel phoned in as if the actors were just killing time until better roles presented themselves. Kyle Gallner is scattershot as Quentin, who wanders around the film looking as if he can’t decide whether to be scared or just mildly concerned. Even worse is Rooney Mara’s turn as the pivotal Nancy, who looks so dim you’d think she has to pre-plan every breath. None of the other teens in the film stand out either, they just meander in and out while trying to stay out of the way of the storyline.
“Nightmare on Elm Street” has a few flaws, but this is a rare instance where the film’s good qualities overcome the negative. In an era where moviegoers lament the lack of originality in horror movies, “Elm Street” is a sharp rebuke, one that shows a neglected character can be remade into an imaginative feature. All in all, the new “Nightmare” is an amazing reinvention of a classic character that’s sure to please old fans and new viewers alike.
Samuel Bayer (director) / Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer (screenplay)
CAST: Jackie Earle Haley … Freddy Krueger
Kyle Gallner … Quentin Smith
Rooney Mara … Nancy Holbrook
Katie Cassidy … Kris Fowles
Thomas Dekker … Jesse Braun
Kellan Lutz … Dean Russell
Clancy Brown … Alan Smith
Connie Britton … Dr. Gwen Holbrook