Monday, May 24, 2010

So You Won't Have To: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

The downside - if there could be such a thing - to watching Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is that when the opportunity presented itself to sit through the Platinum Dunes remake, I opted to bite the bullet. I can't even say I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010); I endured it.

Imagine that you're a big fan of a band, and the guy who tormented you in high school shows up again in your neighborhood, moves in, and makes friends with everybody you know. Not only that, but he inexplicably loves the same band that you do, even if there would be no chance he'd be caught dead listening to something you liked in school. But he likes it for all the opposite reasons you do. Like hipsters. Yeah, imagine he's into the same band you are, but in an ironic way. And then he starts a cover band that plays all of the songs in a way that makes fun of them. Now you look like the asshole that's yelling "come on guys! they're really good!", while everybody thinks the shitty cover band is better than the real deal.

That's Platinum Dunes: they've consistently found a way to remake horror movies that disregard actual fans of the films in favor of appealing to hipsters that think "that movie sucked anyway, but I know the name of it" and will go see it for that reason alone. So the movies make money, even if they lack basic film-making coherency. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably the best of their remakes and it's at best a shell of the original film. Without the iconography of Leatherface, it's R. Lee Ermey terrorizing teenagers. I think I've made it clear how I feel about Shit Coffin.

Their latest strip mining of a franchise is A Nightmare on Elm Street, which I believe you heard the Cap'n endured. The remake manages to strip anything interesting about Freddy Krueger, Springwood, the parents, the kids, and even the dreams away, leaving a husk of a movie that walks a familiar walk, whistles the same tune, but doesn't manage to keep you interested.

I'm going to give you five simple ways the producers, director, writer(s), and cast contributed to a movie I almost turned off seven times during the 90 minute run time:

1. Freddy's not scary - or funny, for that matter. Don't let people fool you into thinking that the jokester Freddy is gone or that he just makes "dark" jokes; that's not true at all. Freddy makes jokes, they're just really bad. And not corny, Part 4 puns, but jokes that don't even make sense. Look, I understood the context of "how's this for a wet dream" in Dream Master, but when Freddy says the same thing to Nancy because she's sinking in a hallway made of tar, it just sounds stupid.

I'm going to share one more exchange for you, between Freddy and Nancy:

Freddy: Little Nancy. Now that you caught me, what game do you wanna play next?
Nancy: Fuck you!
Freddy: Ooh, sounds like fun. It's a little fast for me. How about we hang, first?

Now I know what you're thinking, but the only hanging you see is maybe Nancy's friends behind pipes. I honestly couldn't tell, and besides that doesn't actually address what Freddy's suggesting or what he then tries to do, which is cut her.

In fact, that's all Freddy does. He doesn't sneak around and fuck with people; when the movie isn't copying shots directly from the original film, all Freddy does as walk around and scratch pipes or walls (which shoot out sparks). I don't know whether to pin this on Jackie Earle Haley or the direction or the script, but there's really nothing for him to do here. Freddy doesn't even really seem to relish what he's doing, even when he says he is. There's no sense of being toyed with, or that he's enjoying torturing the Elm Street kids. He just kills them and moves on.

2. The kids aren't interesting - To be honest with you, this really killed the movie for me, because I didn't care about one of these characters. Not the goth-ed out, comatose-acting Nancy, or the Hot Topic Quentin (the Glenn character), or I don't really know what they're supposed to be other than dressed in black and mopey Kris ("Tina") and Jesse ("Rod"), who you can only identify as such because one dies floating above her bed and the other dies in prison. There's another character, Dean, that is killed so quickly into the movie that I didn't care who he was.

It does, however, set up a funeral that's so bad I nearly renamed the film A Twilight on Elm Street. All of the kids are mumbling into their chests and staring woefully at each other about some stupid shared history they have (which you can figure out well before they do) until their parents drag them away, shushing any sense of camaraderie we might have been able to follow. Remember how Nancy and Glenn and Tina and Rod may not have been the best of friends, but you could tell that they were all there for each other? Remember how Nancy stays with Tina because she's scared and Glenn stays with Nancy so she's not alone, and even Rod is a little shaken about his nightmares but he won't tell Tina? How they seemed like they'd actually hang out? Not these paper cut-out remake versions.

Oh, since I brought up the parents...

3. Why are the parents even in this movie? - Look, it's great that the producers got Clancy Brown to come in and play Quentin's father. He's not playing the John Saxon role, mind you, because that character doesn't exist, but I guess I'll give them credit for getting it half right: character actor appears in a paternal role in A Nightmare on Elm Street film.

But then again, the script just ruins all of that promise. Every family in Springwood appears to be a one-parent, absentee / latch-key family of people who don't really give a shit about their kids. When it's far too late in the film for you to honestly care that the parents killed Freddy (this time without the botched trial - more on that in a minute) in order to suppress the memories of our main characters about being molested and cut (and they make no bones that's exactly what happened. There are pictures!) the parents still are conveniently ignoring the fact that "suppressed memories" don't leave people with gaping claw marks in their chests (Kris and Jesse).

The parents might as well not be in the movie, because they emote just about as much as their zombified children, and at no point did I believe any one of the actors playing an adult gave two shits about their child. Not once. In fact, the only reason I can think that the parents are in there at all is to expand the backstory and shoehorn a dream / flashback of Freddy being burned alive, which brings us to the next crippling story problem...

4. The cheap "did he or didn't he?" gimmick - By now you've probably heard that A Nightmare on Elm Street decides to pursue the subplot of "did Freddy really molest the children, or did they just say he did because their parents asked?" It doesn't work at all because a) director Samuel Bayer includes shots in the flashbacks of the parents finding claw marks on the kids' backs that just doesn't have any other explanation, and b) because they have no intention of pursuing the subplot.

It's a cheap way to get Nancy and Quentin away from Springwood to the preschool where everything "allegedly" happened, and so they can whine about how their parents killed an innocent man, only to immediately find Freddy's "cave" where all the horrible evidence is on display. In the span of five minutes Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner go from emotionlessly moping about their parents to feigning shock that Freddy really was a child molester.

The idea itself isn't a bad one; while it totally changes the Nightmare on Elm Street lore, in a remake you can get away with shifts like that because it's an interesting deviation. It changes Freddy's motivation from predatory to retribution, which might not work out as well, but at least it's something different. In a movie that slavishly recreates the iconic imagery of the original (and not as well any time), this is the one big change I can point to that has any ramifications on future sequels.

But they chicken out. Freddy's a despicable child-killer and deserves to be burned alive (again) when Nancy drags him out of the dream world, only to appear again in a shock ending.

Rather than discuss the stupid, cheap scare ending (that fails to replicate the surreal ending to the original in any way) I want to discuss a lazy cheat on the part of writers Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer, and director Samuel Bayer that drains any tension from the second half of the film...

5. Micro-Naps - Early in the movie, Quentin's research on sleep deprivation brings up the concept of "micro-naps" where the brain shuts down for a few seconds after 72 hours without sleep. According to the movie, it means you're "dreaming without knowing it," which I guess would come in handy in blurring the lines of reality and fantasy, which the remake to that point has been pretty bad at doing (reverting to a "red and green" color palette to indicate "nightmare" really makes it easy to figure out the beginning of the film).

Unfortunately, micro-naps instead become a cheap way for Strick, Heisserer, and Bayer to have Freddy appear any time and anywhere for a "jump" scare because they can't build any tension in this film. Freddy never does ANYTHING during these "shocks", except quickly pop into frame and then immediately disappear. The only thing close to interesting that ever happens is a quick chase scene in a convenience store where Nancy drifts in and out of the boiler room nightmare while Freddy stalks her. And that's over pretty quickly. After that, it's really just used for cheap scares until the last dream showdown.


Folks, I hated this movie. A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't work as a remake; it doesn't work as a stand-alone film; it doesn't work as a horror film. What it did do was make me angry that people lined up to go see this garbage en masse a few weeks ago, because the kind-sorta know the name. It may be due in part to just having watched Never Sleep Again, it may be because I'm a little more forgiving of mangling a Friday the 13th formula than the Nightmare on Elm Street (and Shit Coffin still managed to strip anything away from Jason, Mrs. Vorhees, or Camp Crystal Lake), but this film was a test of my patience. I feel embarrassed that I wasted an hour and a half sitting through it, but I did it so you folks won't have to. Even though some of you have already told me that you will.

So let me say this: You Will Regret It. There is not amount of morbid curiosity that will compensate for the shallow, surface level retelling of this film by people who don't give two shits about your enjoyment of the Nightmare series. They don't care, and they will continue to put out these soulless husks of horror films with names you recognize because the ironic cover band is in vogue now. And I don't know what we can do about it.

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