Written by: Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer
Directed by: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, and Clancy Brown
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Welcome to your new nightmare.
Well, this is the big one, I guess, as the last of the truly iconic horror figures of the late 20th century has received a 21st century makeover. Like his contemporaries, Freddy Krueger has endured massive amounts of punishment on the screen, even losing his head to Jason Voorhees at one point. However, like the others, Freddy also couldnít survive Hollywood trends forever, though no one could have guessed it would come on the heels of that fateful encounter with Jason. Indeed, the runaway success of 2003ís crossover film revitalized the characters and seemed to pave the way for further sequels. Alas, the regime at New Line Cinema had other ideas and charged Platinum Dunes with the task of reinventing the character that was responsible for the studioís success in the first place. Having returned both Leatherface and Jason to their former glory, Platinum Dunes is a natural fit for the job. Personally, the disappointment of the franchise taking this direction hung in the air when it was announced; however, the smoke has cleared, and it has become increasingly obvious that any attempt to make a new sequel was half-hearted at best. As such, I will preface this review by saying it would be unfair to compare Platinum Dunesís effort to any sort of phantom sequel that never made it to the screen. Instead, one can simply hope that the Dunes could accomplish what they have done previously: create a film thatís worthy of the name it carries and faithfully resurrects one of horrorís biggest icons.
Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) and her friends at Springwood High are having nightmares about a mysterious and sinister boogeyman. Horribly disfigured and wielding a razor-fingered glove, the maniac stalks them in their dreams before brutally murdering one of them. Now that the line between dreams and reality has been crossed, the survivors begin to piece together their own dark past, particularly their days in preschool. While there, a seemingly innocent gardener by the name of Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) was accused of molesting the children; as retribution, the parents of Springwood banded together and burned him alive. Now, Freddy is back to take revenge on the children that may have wrongfully accused him in the first place.
It goes without saying that Platinum Dunes is tackling their most daunting task yet here. Compared to Freddy, their previously resurrected icons were easy to get right. However, the character of Freddy Krueger has been largely defined by the man who inhabited the role for over 20 years, Robert Englund. Rather than simply being a glorified stuntman in a mask, Freddy is a more fully realized character, complete with a sick, twisted personality thatís always been both repulsive and endearing. Thus, newcomer Jackie Earle Haley has a big glove to fill. It's obviously just a little odd to see someone else in the role, especially when Freddy looks so visually similar to his previous incarnations. The fedora, the sweater, and the glove are all there, with the makeup marking the biggest visual departure. Itís an interesting look, one thatís much less symmetrical and altogether more messy than what weíre used to; when itís bathed in shadows, it looks fine, but when lit, itís far more dodgy, particularly around the mouth and the eyes. Resembling the unholy union of a Stephen King Sleepwalker and Cropsy, this Freddy looks more pathetic than terrifying at times, but he's certainly a jarring figure at any rate.
As for the character itself, itís hard to say that the Dunes got him completely right or completely wrong; likewise, itís hard to place too much of the blame on Haley himself, as heís saddled with some pretty uneventful and banal dialogue for much of the filmís running time. While the character does exhibit some of Freddyís trademark twisted, sick sense of humor, many of the lines just fall too flat. It doesnít help that Haleyís delivery is drawn out and somewhat monotone, which makes Freddy himself seem bored and disinterested. There are times where heís even conversational with his victims, which isnít as effective as the more terse one-liners. When Haley isnít slowly growling his lines, heíll occasionally explode into more rage-filled bits of dialogue. This allows him to show some range, but it also makes the performance a bit uneven. As a result, the acerbic wit that made Freddy so memorable in the first place is sort of lost at times. Itís not surprising that this quality shines through the best when heís merely delivering lines weíve heard in previous Nightmare films; in fact, these lines manage to outclass anything he says that's original.
This is indicative of the film as a whole, in fact, and itís probably the most disappointing aspect of the film: thereís a distinct lack of overall imagination, and anything thatís remotely memorable is simply copied and pasted from previous films. Furthermore, the previous films pulled off the sequences and effects much more effectively despite the 25 year difference in technology. Most of the dream sequences arenít as elaborate as youíd expect, and the concept of micronaps (waking nightmares, basically), while interesting, adds very little to the overall proceedings. Also, while the Nightmare films have always been story-driven affairs, the death sequences were always memorable and visceral, packing the right amount of punch to progress the narrative. The same canít be said of this film--in fact, all you need to know is that Freddy dispatches one of the kids with a steak knife even though he's wearing a razor-fingered glove, for whatever reason.
Thus, this is one of those remakes that can do little more than half-heartedly recall past glories and attempt to regurgitate them for a new generation. It certainly lacks an overall nightmarish quality and sense of dread; it also trades in a more cerebral and atmospheric approach for a series of loud chair jumpers that gets tired rather quickly. One can only see Freddy jump into the frame so many times before it becomes more annoying than startling. The plot itself is admittedly much different, particularly the pedophilia angle. This aspect of the character is one that was only subtly hinted at throughout the series, but itís not exactly fully exposed here. While thereís no doubt that molestation is Freddyís crime, the deed is never fully shown nor fully discussed in dialogue. Instead, thereís just enough subtle hints that allow you to connect the dots, and, while itís different from what weíve come to know, itís hard to say this approach allows for a significantly different experience. It does provide a bit more of a mystery in the narrative, but the ultimate resolution doesnít do much to radically alter the proceedings; in fact, the mystery behind Kruegerís crimes just seems to be thrown in to throw the seasoned viewer off the scent, so it's like this clanging, empty shock that only reveals the film's refusal to actually try anything remotely inventive.
If anything, the film does exhibit the level of production competence weíve come to expect from Platinum Dunes. The film is gorgeously photographed and generally shot well. One wishes that director Bayer had been given a bit more to do in the way of elaborate visuals because he does have a keen eye for what works much of the time. There are some sequences that do manage to capture a sense of creepiness due to Bayerís shot selection, but they are few and far between. The visuals are matched by an adequate score from Steve Jablonsky, who shows an unwillingness to use the franchiseís previously established cues and themes (with a couple of minor exceptions). His score is orchestral and Nightmare-appropriate, but it does little to enhance the visuals, nor does it add anything in the way of atmosphere.
The film is also paced decently in the sense that the action moves briskly. Sometimes you sometimes wish weíd get a little bit more time with some of the cast that would allow the film to breathe a bit. Once things get going in this one, itís off to a running start as it breezes from one sequence to the next. The film lacks any real narrative depth and exhibits some gaps in logic as a result: the parents' refusal to report Krueger to the police is glossed over and almost laughable, and it's hard to believe that not a single kid in the bunch can remember anything from their preschool days. Finally, the resolution feels rushed and forced, and the climax is lifted almost beat for beat from a previous film in the series, even going so far as to use dialogue from it. The script certainly feels like it was cobbled together from multiple drafts, as it feels full of half-baked ideas and superficial plot threads that never come together to form a compelling story.
The cast itself is a solid one. All of the teens do a decent job of inhabiting their underwritten roles, particularly Rooney Mara, who brings a sort of wounded, innocent, and reserved quality to the character of Nancy. The chemistry between her character and Kyle Gallnerís Quentin is believable even though the charactersí relationship is hastily established. The two parental figures in this one, Clancy Brown and Connie Britton, are fine in limited roles. Brown briefly shines in the flashback sequence that reveals Freddyís fiery death at the hands of the angry parents, but it's a false glimmer in an movie that mostly wastes its wealth of talent. The final product is something mediocre at best, though isnít a total embarrassment to the Nightmare legacy. Haleyís Freddy is one that will certainly take hardcore fans time to warm up to, and the filmís rushed and often mundane quality keep this one from being anything more than a half-hearted retread that's all style and little substance. Still, the sheer curiosity factor and the high production values only result in a painfully average and highly forgettable modern horror experience. Indeed, this one wonít quite be a recurring nightmare, but it is worth taking one stroll down this new Elm Street, just so you can say you gave it a shot. Rent it!
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