A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Director : Samuel Bayer
Screenplay : Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer (story byWesley Strick; based on characters created by Wes Craven)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : 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), Lia Mortensen (Nora Fowles), Julianna Damm (Little Kris), Christian Stolte (Jesse’s Father)
Having already remade virtually all of the most venerable horror franchises of the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company has finally turned its attention to Wes Craven’s innovative horror-fantasy hybrid A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which has remained untouched at this point most likely because, unlike the masked hulks of the Halloween and Friday the 13th series, Nightmare’s cackling slasher Freddy Krueger is a distinct personality completely associated with actor Robert Englund, who played him in eight movies. Englund, however, was not invited to the remake party, and has been instead replaced with Jackie Earle Haley, who, after playing a tortured pedophile in Little Children (2006) and the tortured superhero Rorschach in Watchmen (2009), has become the go-to actor for tortured characters, which, interestingly enough, Freddy Krueger has never been. However horribly burned and scarred he may be, Freddy has always been a gleefully wicked villain, one who revels and basks in his villainy; while Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are driven by psychosexual impulses to silently hack and slash their way through teenagerdom, Freddy does it because it fulfills his own warped sense of justice and brings him pleasure, something he isn’t afraid to express.
Whether purposefully or not, Jackie Earle Haley’s reinterpretation of the razor-fingered man in the dirty fedora and red-and-green sweater is quite different from Englund’s (and not just in his make-up design, which gives him a strangely feline appearance). Despite a few quips here and there, Haley’s Freddy is a much more glum villain, going about his bloody work with a definite sense of purpose, but no real élan. In Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy was kept largely in the shadows and had a much darker and more vile sensibility than the camp character he devolved into in the sequels, and that is clearly what Haley and director Samuel Bayer, a music video veteran best known for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” are aiming for. However, what they fail to capture is Craven’s clever and unnerving mixture of horror and humor, which is what made his film so instantly memorable and scary. Bayer’s take on the material emphasizes the darkness, but almost to a fault; his movie is more morose than scary.
Part of this is due to the teen characters Freddy is terrorizing in their dreams. One of the strengths of Craven’s original was his community of bright, interesting teenagers who displayed thoughts, ideas, and a sense of morality. The new victims have none of those qualities. They’re prettier and dress better and live in nicer houses, but they’re a sad-sack group of tormented souls who are so despondent and depressed from the get-go that it would seem like a visit from Freddy in their dreams might offer a jolt of welcome energy. Watching them become further sleep deprived and desperate doesn’t have the same effect as in the original because we never saw them happy and care-free to begin with; it’s like they’ve always been strung-out and on edge. This is particularly true of Nancy, who, as played by Heather Langenkamp in the original, was one of the most resourceful and spunky of the ’80s Final Girls; here she is a glum, dark-eyed, moody soul played by Rooney Mara. Her Final Girl duties are split with Kyle Gallner’s Quentin Smith, a similarly moody soul who has the advantage of ADD medication to help keep him awake.
Screenwriters Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Doom) and Eric Heisserer (who penned the upcoming remake of The Thing) clearly did not want to simply retread Craven’s territory. While they borrow a few choice images from the original (including Freddy’s face and hands pressing through a wall above a victim’s bed, which was done beautifully a quarter-century ago with clever lighting and a rubber wall, but is now done with lousy, over-the-top digital effects that ruin the illusion), they otherwise forge their own path by attempting to turn the story into a quasi-mystery in which Nancy and Quentin attempt to discover Freddy’s dark past and why he now haunts their dreams (Strick and Heisserer toy with some interesting psychoanalytic concepts, particularly repression, but it all turns out to be a red herring jettisoned in favor of general non-explanations).
Focusing on Freddy’s past was an interesting idea to give the story some unique narrative momentum, but it also involves a number of strange decisions, particularly altering Freddy’s backstory from being a child murderer to a garden-variety pedophile. Pedophilia was certainly hinted at in the original, but the emphasis was on Freddy’s murderous tendencies, hence the creation of the bladed glove. Now he is just a pathetic basement dweller with a thing for preschoolers, which both increases the ick factor tenfold and also undermines the connection between Freddy in real life and Freddy in the dreamworld. Ultimately, it is not that this new version of A Nightmare on Elm Street is particularly bad; in fact, there are numerous moments that work quite well. But, you still can’t help but feel at the end that its primary effect is to leave you less thrilled than simply asking what’s the point in remaking something if you can’t improve on the original?
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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