February 19, 2009

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

fridaythe13th3_largeWay back in the late 1970's Sean S. Cunningham had produced a couple of children's films (Manny's Orphans, Here Come the Tigers) that were not all that successful. In need of something to keep his business solvent, he and writer Victor Miller came up with a title, not an idea, but a title for a potential horror film. Little did either of them realize what the title would mean to their careers or to the world of horror. Friday the 13th was born. Now, here we are, nearly thirty years removed from the debut of one of horror's most enduring monsters witnessing a new interpretation of an idea that was never intended to make it this far.

fridaythe13thpic6The original Friday the 13th took the ideas set forth in 1978's Halloween and put a twist on them, taking the violence out of the house and into the woods, upping the body count and adding a more visceral look to the violence (which in turn brought the MPAA down on them, but that is a story for another time). The universe that sprouted up around Crystal Lake would go on to spawn nine sequels and one spin off (Freddy vs Jason), not to mention a television series, although its connection to the film series is tenuous at best.

With all of that history that Jason Voorhees and the entire film has, one has to question the necessity of a remake. With so many films getting remade, one has to wonder if Hollywood will ever come up with their own ideas again. It seems as if pretty soon the remakes will be of movies made within the past five years. First there was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then Halloween, and now Friday the 13th (next stop, A Nightmare on Elm Street), what was old is new again, for better or worse.

fridaythe13thpic21It really is "better or worse," as this movie goes to both extremes. At alternating turns, this is a bad ass new take on the perennial slasher and an annoying collection of young person stereotypes amped just a little too far towards the parody. Still, there is no denying that this new version of Friday the 13th introduces a new Jason with an old school feel and wrapped a film that has a healthy dose of mean-spiritedness.

This new movie does a great job of combining elements from the first four films of the series into a new, cohesive tale that could be taken as a reimagining or a sequel to those early films, while still remaining fresh.

As the movie opens, we are greeted by voice over telling us of a boy who drowned in the lake. What follows is a brief journey through the first two films of the series, leading to the title card that appears out of nowhere to remind us that the best bits are yet to come. That is saying something, as there are some really good bits, not to mention an important plot point revealed during this pre-title sequence. We get annoying characters, a fireside history of Jason, the possibility he is still in the woods, a hunt for a marijuana crop, gratuitous nudity, free-flowing blood, and even some inventive kills. Sounds like enough for an entire movie, right?

The story proper is not one that is unfamiliar. No new ground is tread as we are introduced to a new group of twenty-somethings obsessed with sex, drugs, and beer (not necessarily in that order). We also meet a young man named Clay (Jared Padalecki) who is looking for his sister who's gone missing in the area of Crystal Lake. As we all know, "missing" around this particular lake generally translates to "dead."

fridaythe13thpic23Clay makes a connection with Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who then joins him to help canvas the area. This leaves Jenna's boyfriend, Trent (Tavis Van Winkle), free to enjoy some adult time with Bree (Julianna Guill), all while their friends, including Chewie (the very funny Aaron Yoo) and Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) free to get drunk and high. Not to mention the other couple that headed out to the dock. Based on these people, can you guess who gets killed?

These characters also represent the biggest problem with the film, and it is primarily screenplay related. The dialogue is just awful, there is little chemistry between them, and they just do not seem like they would be friends with each other. Besides that, I did not care for the marijuana fixation. Some of it is to be expected, but the lengths they go to to discuss it are just too much and do not feel natural. It all goes to the me looking forward to their deaths. Come to think of it, that may be the point.

The movie is at its strongest, character wise, when the focus is on Clay and Jenna. They carry the heart of the film with them, as they go, so goes the audience. As good as they are together, the movie really clicks when Jason is on the screen. He is the reason people are on the edge of their seats.

fridaythe13thpic11Derek Mears (The Hills Have Eyes 2) inhabits the role of the killer and brings a new level of brutality to the character. As much as I liked Kane Hodder as the zombie Jason in the final few films of the series, Mears take is ruthless, and very frightening in how he goes about his business. This Jason is physically imposing, and is all too good at what he does, and it seems that he has been at it for some time before this batch of slaughter-fodder arrived.

Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Pathfinder) ably helmed the feature. It does not quite have the deadly serious aura of the Chainsaw remake, but it does marry the 80's feel of the series with more modern sensibilities. The action is dynamic, looks great, and shows that with some material, Nispel is quite good.

As for the screenplay from Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (sharing story credit with Mark Wheaton), it does get the big picture right, while stumbling on the finer details. The broad strokes they succeed at are embedding elements from the first few films into a new story familiar to fans, fresh to newcomers, and I have to admit to enjoying watching it unfold. The problems lie in the inability to write convincing dialogue.

Bottomline. Very effective reboot for the series. It has humor, nudity, blood, scares, and a truly frightening antagonist. Hopefully, this will help spark a resurgence of slasher fare to help temper the glut of torture and supernatural/creepy kid horror that has flooded the market over the last few years. If you like horror, this is one to see.



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