Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company has finally crossed A Nightmare On Elm Street from their hitlist of easy money big name horror remakes. I am sad to say that I naively did not believe the film could be as awful as it was. What I hadn't factored into my already low expectations was that unlike the masked killers Leatherface or Jason of the Platinum-remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, Wes Craven's more ambitious conception of Freddy Krueger only made the core idea of a Nightmare film that much easier to screw up by people who don't care.

Leatherface and Jason killed people in violent ways while wearing masks and that's impossible for even Michael Bay to screw up, as he only understands action and to him horror movies are just action movies for ugly people with stabbings instead of shootings. Freddy is supposed to kill people in surreal ways, yet there's not a single bizarre death in this film that wasn't swiped from the original and they manage to screw those up as well with terrible CGI. With all the money in the world to throw at this version of Freddy Krueger, where special effects could really make a difference as opposed to a psycho in the woods wearing a hockey mask, Bay can't buy himself an imagination or bear to let anyone work for him who has one.

The specificity of the Freddy Krueger character apparently called for a more rote recitation of the original film's story points than the other slasher revamps, yet Michael Bay still found a way to make the character's origin totally illogical, undead dream hauntings aside: in lieu of any new and memorable scenes, characters or even special effects, the single new spin on the idea of A Nightmare On Elm Street is that Freddy Krueger is now explicitly rewritten as a child molester. The entire plot hinges on playing a guessing game as to whether or not he was one.

The same man producing and directing ostensible entertainment for the whole family like Transformers had no qualms whatsoever about exploiting something so painful to so many people as child molestation as the gimmick to an uninspired throwaway piece of garbage like this.

The original 1984 film curbed such allusions out of sensitivity to a recent scandal involving systematic molestation by schoolteachers, as revealed in the recent Nightmare series documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. In Friday the 13th and even Texas Chainsaw Massacre to some degree, the lack of a moral center was never an impediment to the Platinum Dunes remakes. Nightmare is however not only the most incompetent of these films to date - I'm told the Friday remake at least had tits - but may also the most conceptually, intellectually and spiritually offensive horror remake ever made.

The original was imbued with Wes Craven's sympathy for Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp et all as kids targeted by a killer's ghost whose revenge was really directed at their parents. In this version, the kids are merely cogs in the plot machine for red herrings around child molestation. Story and co-screenwriting credit for this goes to Wesley Strick, who has now cavalierly added child seduction to TWO remakes of great movies - the other being 1991's Cape Fear.

The gravest stupidity of adding such humorless ickiness to Craven's original simple and effective mind game of a ghost story is that the rest of the story Platinum Dunes stole from suddenly makes no sense. If Fred Krueger was now the live-in gardener of a preschool which he systematically molested, why does no one in that entire school remember him? The actress playing Nancy, Rooney Mara, actually rhetorically asks a friend at one point "Who can remember what happened when you're five years old?" Are today's high schoolers really that bereft of long term memory, post-Facebook? Is that why Mara isn't supposed to recognize the specter of own five year old self in her dreams? She doesn't remember what she even looked like back then?

Why, as Strick's plot goes, would she or any of the other kids falsely accuse Krueger of molestation anyway? Would every parent from the school spontaneously form a lynch mob as a first response? Maybe, but it's not half as plausible as if he were also a child murderer and acquitted in court on a technicality as he was in the original. I'm not merely harping on these points for their shameless tastelessness; this molestation nonsense is what drives every minute of the film between the forgettable "scary" scenes.

Michael Bay didn't even have the balls in the end to actually make Freddy a wrongfully accused innocent gone bad. That would have at least been an honest attempt to reinvent the character. With the final revelation that Freddy was actually guilty of child molestation before his second career as a pizza faced boogeyman, the bold new inspiration for the "rebooted" Freddy is that he's finally now also a child molester. Isn't that the kind of "hardcore" and "extreme" "style" we've all grown to love about and expect from a Michael Bay production?

Admittedly he doesn't have exclusive ownership of such thinking. This is exactly in line with the logic that dictates the only way Batman's old nemesis The Joker can be relevant to modern audiences is to make him a terrorist, snuff videos and all. How sick and how sad that people get excited over these new lows of depravity in escapist entertainment as if they're some kind of creative bravery.

Director Samuel Bayer's previous credit of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit music video and a dozen others does not translate into skillfulness directing a horror film, or even lending some kind of stylistic imprint. Rachel Talalay showed more visual flair on Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, her first film, than this guy. He can't direct actors at all. Mara and Johnny Depp surrogate Kyle Gallner have almost half a natural interaction towards the end, everyone else is beyond hopeless.

Jackie Earle Haley has no physicality in his role, simply walking from point A to B while occasionally flicking his fingers or scraping a wall. Presumably this was done on purpose, to differentiate the Platinum Dunes Freddy from Robert Englund, which is utterly self defeating: if Freddy walks like some random stuntman in a mask from any random slasher, why bother getting a "real actor"? Oh yeah, so Haley can do his "Rorschach" voice from Watchmen, the film that gave him the geek cred to demand huge paychecks for junk like this.

The ad campaign carefully hid Haley's made-up face in the shadows on all posters and in all trailers and TV spots. At some point Bay must have decided his audiences wouldn't have the patience to wait any longer once they'd bought their tickets, so the new Freddy's face is exposed under bright lights in the first kill before the opening credits - a kill which is the razor gloved equivalent of that classic older brother's game, "Why Are You Hitting Yourself?" and makes even the worst of the original Nightmare movies' set pieces look like Salvador Dali by comparison.

Bay's disdain for attention spans is also on display with an amazingly high number of cheap jump scares, the kind achieved not just with screeching cats jumping from dark places but entire orchestra hits and flashes of light backing them up. These happen so frequently, quickly and pointlessly, accompanying actions as simple as someone entering the film frame, that you can in fact literally miss one if you blink, as I did. Is this the new normal in slickly produced horror remakes? I would've remembered if the Texas Chainsaw remake and it's prequel had as many sudden twists of the volume knob to induce shock stimulus.

On every abstract creative level which can conceivably be quantified, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a failure and an offense to even the lowest standards. The cynicism involved every step of the way is palpable, informed by a jaded hatred of humanity and a genuine contempt for originality as an artistic virtue. At the very least, Freddy is almost the last surefire moneymaker horror icon that can be remade and to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the problem with remakes is that you eventually run out of other people's ideas.

Michael Bay and his surrogates have the morals of grave robbers who sell bodies to necrophiliacs and cannibals.


Andrew Wickliffe said...

This raises the question -- is Hollywood ever ballsy enough to do a truly unpredictable ending? I'm thinking mostly of Vanilla Sky (i.e. turn Tom Cruise into a tragic mental case who beats his pretty girlfriend) or Dark Knight (let Tiny Lister kill a bunch of white suburbanites).

I doubt it even occurred to Strick to make Freddy innocent....

Anonymous said...

Well, I liked that they made Freddy into a darker character. The sequels had turned the character into a wise-cracking jokester, someone who people can LOVE and laugh at. But not here. There is no kidding around here, and the child molester aspect (an element Craven rejected for the original film) helps add something unsavory to the character. The scene where Freddy is in bed with Nancy and groping her made me feel geniunely uncomfortable - and it's great that Freddy Krueger can actually have that effect on me.

Everything else about the remake however is incredibly unremarkable. And what a waste of Clancy Brown.