2009’s “Friday the 13th” is less a reboot of the franchise as it is a pseudo sequel to the 1980 original, with the film’s plot going about business as if the 200 or so “Friday the 13th” sequels that proceeded the 1980 original never happened. In this parallel world, Jason the machete wielding maniac has not been terrorizing stupid and promiscuous teens for the last two decades or so since his dear mum met her demise at the hands of a capable Crystal Lake camp counselor, but instead has been hiding away in the old Crystal Lake campgrounds tinkering away his time and jealously guarding his uber weed stash. Jason’s killer instincts surfaces when the usual crop of drugs and sex-crazed teens invade his territory, forcing the masked woodsman to take out the garbage with extreme prejudice.
After a brief flashback that essentially recreates the ending of the 1980 original, the 2009 incarnation begins with Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti), who has arrived in the country for some fresh air with her boyfriend and some friends. After some “character” build-up, by which I mean a lot of weed and sex talk, the teens are dispatched by Jason in brutal fashion. Have no fear, though, because a second group of victims quickly arrive, led by spoiled rich brat Trent (Travis Van Winkle), his (poorly conveyed) girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), and their assortment of eclectic, rainbow-flavored friends. Later, loner Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) arrives in the area, looking for his missing sister Whitney, who the local authorities insist has run off with her boyfriend. Clay, though, knows better.
Right away, you notice a major difference with this Jason: the 2009 version is much more resourceful and seems to have no issues with moving at a brisk speed. Like all masked maniacs of cinema, Jason possesses his own teleportation device that allows him to be everywhere at once without making nary a sound, but whereas previous Jasons liked to linger in the background, coolly stalking their prey knowing that sooner or later he would get them, Derek Mears’ hockey-wearing brute would just as soon charge you like a rabid bull. Although I had heard reports of this going into the movie, I must admit, seeing Jason charging his victims was … strange. Whereas previous Jasons seemed to claim their victims with the kind of foregone conclusion that made him clearly supernatural, this Jason seems more desperate, more anxious. In a lot of ways, this Jason is so much more human that he’s become less scary and more mortal, making him less of an effective bogeyman.
The writing is standard fare for the genre (which is to say, amusingly unambitious and lazy), but that’s to be expected when the movie is being sold on name recognition alone. No one is buying tickets to see clever dialogue, so they probably won’t care too much that this “Friday the 13th” is generously sprinkled with horrible and cheesy lines that sound like they were cranked out without any effort to ensure they sounded the least bit real. What’s worth a chuckle, though, is that writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift probably thought they were writing some awfully post-modern, hip stuff here, as exemplified by the Token Black Guy, here being fully aware of his Token Black Guyness. To fill out the film’s makeshift and thrown-together (and not in a million years believable) rainbow coalition, the writers even offer up a Token Asian Guy as the group’s pothead. And oh yeah, apparently everyone in this movie is obsessed with weed. I can imagine one of Shannon and Swift’s brainstorming sessions probably went something like this: “Dude! You know what kids like? Weed! Oh hell yeah, brilliant! Let’s add more weed shit in the script! Dude!” Or perhaps not.
“Friday the 13th” stars Jared Padalecki, who TV watchers will recognize as one-half of the Winchester brothers on the CW’s Supernatural. Like his TV sibling Jensen Ackles, Padalecki moonlights as a feature film horror movie hero when he’s not on TV battling demons and shapeshifters. There are actually some credible sparks between Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker (TV’s Shark), though even that is nullified somewhat by a rather mundane middle section that has the two leads do nothing but walk around the woods like the Hardy Boys. The script also seems incapable of making up its mind in regards to the designated Final Girl. Is it Jenna? Or is it Whitney, who we quickly learn is still alive and Jason’s captive? The dilemma is eventually solved, and is probably the script’s most original moment, though granted, that’s not saying a whole lot.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to approach “Friday the 13th” from a purely genre point of view. It is quite the capable teen slasher, I’ll give it that. The film is aided by excellent technical credits thanks to director Marcus Nispel, who also helmed the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboot for the Platinum Dunes boys and by now could direct these horror remakes in his sleep. As Hollywood horror movie remakes go, “Friday the 13th” has everything today’s audiences demand, and thanks to an R rating there are plenty of blood, boobies, and bodies. Jason cuts quite the swath through his teen foes, slashing, burning, chopping, and generally making a mess of the campgrounds. For those who can easily switch off their brains, ignore the subpar acting and by-the-numbers writing, “Friday the 13th” offers plenty of mayhem to fill out the running time. To be sure, there are few genuine frights to be had in the whole movie. Like most of his contemporaries, Jason delivers more manufactured shocks and thrills by continually showing up behind his would-be victims (thanks, personal teleportation device!) than through actual scares and chills.
Viewed as another moneymaking sequel to the never-say-die “Friday the 13th” franchise that started in 1980, this 2009 entry lives up to its predecessors, but forget about improving on them. It’s essentially a slicker, more expensive version of all the other “Friday the 13th” sequels that have been released throughout the years, and as a result is no better or worst. Don’t fool yourself; the filmmakers have no interest in giving you something you’ve never seen before. The film is a reboot in premise only; it’s a reboot in the sense that the people with the purse strings would like you to believe this is a new take on an old story, so that they may crank out a couple more of these before you get wise and stop going to see them. But fear not, I’m sure they’ll have discovered other ‘80s horror movies to reboot by then.
Marcus Nispel (director) / Damian Shannon, Mark Swift (screenplay)
CAST: Jared Padalecki … Clay Miller
Danielle Panabaker … Jenna
Amanda Righetti … Whitney Miller
Travis Van Winkle … Trent
Aaron Yoo … Chewie
Derek Mears … Jason Voorhees