Friday the 13th (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2009-02-14 03:56

Written by: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, Mark Wheaton
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Jared Padalecki, Amanda Righetti, Danielle Panabaker, and Derek Mears

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"His name was Jason, and today is his birthday."

After both Leatherface and Michael Myers received the redux treatment, it was only a matter of time before another slasher icon, Jason Voorhees, received the same. After a couple of tours through Texas, Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes turned their eyes toward Crystal Lake with some familiar faces in tow. Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (of Freddy vs. Jason fame) were on board to write the script, while Marcus Nispel, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was behind the camera to take Jason back to the more familiar elements that had eluded him for the past twenty years: simply stalking and killing kids at Crystal Lake. Of course, as is the case with any remake, there was a bit of teeth-gnashing and knee-jerk reaction by many fans (myself included); however, the presence of Shannon and Swift was a bit of reassurance, and it soon became clear that everyone involved had set out to make a film that was worthy of the Friday legacy, albeit with a few cosmetic changes here and there.

The film opens at Crystal Lake in 1980, and we are quickly treated to a recap of the climax of the original Friday the 13th, as a girl (who looks nothing like Adrienne King, by the way) decapitates the manic Mrs. Voorhees. We then see a mysterious hand take the machete and a locket containing pictures of Mrs. Voorhees and Jason; of course, this hand belongs to the latter, who will now pick up where his mother left off. Flash ahead to the "present day," and another group of campers has now wandered back to Crystal Lake. Anyone familiar with the Friday the 13th series knows what happens next: some drinking, a search for some pot, and, of course, pre-marital sex, none of which pleases Jason, who quickly dispatches the campers. We then flash forward yet again six weeks later, where Clay Miller has arrived back in Crystal Lake in search of his sister, Whitney, who belonged to the first group of campers. Meanwhile, yet another group of campers have set out to enter Jason's wilderness for a weekend of debauchery.

I'll admit it took me a while to warm up to the idea of the Friday the 13th series being rebooted, but I ultimately decided that such a path was the only logical choice. There would never be a sequel to Jason X in a million years, and another sequel set between that film and Freddy vs. Jason unfortunately wouldn't be marketable for today's audiences. Instead, Platinum Dunes has sort of snuck a Trojan Horse into theaters, as this film truly does feel like a sequel disguised as a remake. While this might not have been the intention, it's a bit refreshing if only because it doesn't feel like we're treading over too-familiar ground. Sure, the trappings and cliches of the series are here, but the plot itself is something new; thus, a healthy balance is found, which is crucial when it comes to a redux of any sort. We've seen what happens when such a film veers far off course and barely deserves its name (Rob Zombie's Halloween), so I appreciated the fact that Platinum Dunes actually wanted to embrace the series and actually make a film that deserved the title of Friday the 13th.

And really, I have to admit that it's really hard to screw up such an endeavor, as the key is with Jason himself, who is arguably the easiest slasher with which to pull off a redux. All that's required is Jason stalking and killing his fodder in creative ways, and the Dunes deliver in this respect. While newcomer Derek Mears's Jason is unlike any of his predecessors, he's not unidentifiable as Jason: the signature hockey mask is there, as is his disdain for ignorant kids wandering onto his territory. The one word that comes to mind when attempting to describe Mears's Jason is "feral," as the character truly feels like the wild, backwoods man-child as he was originally envisioned. In some ways, I feel as though the backwoods quality of Steve Dash's Jason in Part II has been combined with the tenacity of Ted White's potrayal in The Final Chapter, and the final result is a very Rambo-esque Jason that stalks his prey and wants nothing more than to defend his territory. For the most part, the character works well in the film because he does very much feel like the same character we've been watching since 1981, but he's been injected with just enough freshness so that he feels new again.

So, for the most part, the film gets Jason right. What about the rest? The answer here is a bit of a mixed bag, starting with the cast, which probably ranks somewhere solidly in the middle among the other films. The characters here certainly aren't as bland as most of the cast of The New Blood, but they're not exactly as memorable as the crew from the third and fourth films. The standouts here are Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), a modern day Jimbo and Ted. The actual leads are also a bit of a mixed bag: Padalecki is excellent as Clay, as he provides a nice, empathetic center to the film, and I wouldn't mind if he became a sort of returning nemesis for Jason. Meanwhile, Danielle Panabaker is serviceable as Jenna, if only because she's not given much to do because the character is a bit bland. Rounding out the cast is the requisite asshole that every slasher film needs these days (Travis Van Winkle as Trent) and some blonde eye candy (Julianna Guill and Willa Ford). For the most part, the cast is dispatched in nice fashion, which is really the most important aspect about their characters. Thankfully, Jason's machete isn't glued to his hand, as he uses other implements of destruction nicely here, and there are at least two kills that will become the film's signature: one includes a bow and arrow, while the other does feature the aforementioned machete quickly and unexpectedly dispatching a girl in the lake. The gore itself is well done and is actually realistically portrayed; I was a bit worried that the grue might feature the over-the-top splatter that we saw in Freddy vs. Jason, but this isn't the case at all.

The mandatory drugs, drinking, nudity, and comedy that's expected from the series is found here in spades; in fact, two of the guys in the first group of campers are specifically looking for some pot that they planted earlier. While the opening 12 minutes isn't as mind-blowing as Michael Bay would have us believe, it truly is an excellent tone setter for the entire film, as it shows that the film is out to entertain us and have fun, while also showing us that Jason is serious business. There's plenty of joking and funny dialogue here, and most of it hits the mark; sure, there are some clunkers here and there, but I can't really say it's any better or worse than what's come before it in this series. Meanwhile, the nudity isn't sparse, by any means, and I think this entry has set the bar in terms of eye candy for the series (Julianna Guill is especially memorable as Bree). The film is certainly not a grim, nihilistic piece like many modern horror films, but the Friday the 13th series was never about that, and I'm happy to report that Platinum Dunes got the tone right with this film. No, it doesn't exactly mimic or feel like an 80s slasher, but such an expectation was always a bit unrealistic; instead, this very much feels like Friday the 13th film of the 21st century, as it's a very stylish, slick piece that's the film equivalent of slapping on a fresh coat of paint on an old room to update it for the times.

If I have any complaints with the film, it lies in two major areas, the first of which is Nispel's direction during some moments when he doesn't give the film a chance to breathe. For example, the opening recap of Pam's death is far too rushed, and the ending similarly doesn't get enough build-up, as the final climax and chase sequence is a bit weak compared to some other entries, as is "the final scare." Furthermore, Nispel sometimes resorts to using the "shaky-cam" effect that has become so predominant in horror these days, and, while this technique can obviously create a disorienting effect, it's actually detrimental to a few sequences because it's hard to figure out exactly what's happening. My second gripe with the film lies with Steve Jablonsky's score, which is about as generic as it gets; gone is any semblance of Harry Manfredini's classic score, and it's instead replaced by a very sterile, industrial soundtrack that never sounds appropriate for the film. Furthermore, the signature "ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma" is sparsely used and is often buried in the mix, which is very disappointing.

Despite these major weaknesses, I must offer some kudos to Platinum Dunes, as I do feel like the film earned the title Friday the 13th. It's certainly not perfect by any means, and it doesn't re-invent the wheel (not that it should have), but it is a worthy entry in the series because it gets most of the important things right. Most importantly, it gets Jason himself right, and it's good to have him back in familiar surroundings. Don't get me wrong: the decades-long detour he took through Manhattan, hell, space, and Elm Street was enjoyable; however, it's good to have him back in Crystal Lake, as this film shows that you can go home again. I feel like if this were called Friday the 13th Part 12, it'd probably be hailed as the best entry since Jason Lives by most fans. I'm not sure where I'd rank it now, but I can say that Platinum Dunes has crafted an entry that Friday fans should enjoy for years to come. Platinum Dunes have now set a course for Elm Street, and it will be by far their most complicated venture yet, as they're set to tackle unique challenges that didn't present themselves here. Until then, however, enjoy the fact that at least one icon is back in a big way. Buy it!

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