December 12, 2013

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

What began as merely a means to keep a company going, beyond all expectations Friday the 13th became a thing of legend. Who would have guessed this low budget rip off movie (targeting Halloween's success, and the less admitted to death stylings of Bay of Blood) would become such an unmitigated success. It has spawned 9 sequels, plus a crossover with another horror icon, before arriving here. You knew it was going to happen sooner or later, with Hollywood's ever expanding penchant for remakes and “product” with a built in fan base, it was inevitable. The big question was whether or not it was going to be any good.

With all of the history that Jason Voorhees has, one has to question the necessity of a remake. Where do you start the movie? Can you do a straight remake? With Friday the 13th, the traditional remake had to be out of the question. Why? You remember who the killer was in the first movie, right? It wasn't Jason! So, you need to have Jason, do you go with Part 2? Nope, no hockey mask. They went with a combination. They took elements of the first three, maybe four, movies, and then reworked them into something cohesive. The one element you need is the hockey mask and they brought it.

The movie arrived on Friday the 13th in February 2009 and made a huge splash, opening bigger than any other film in the series. As a matter of fact, it's opening weekend was bigger than the entire run of any other film in the series (except for Freddy vs. Jason). It arrived to the tune of $40.5 million, it's opening week saw it topple He's Just Not that Into You and Taken to take the top spot by quite a large margin. Sadly, it could not parlay that huge open into longer term success, it topped out at a little over $65 million. Still, that is not a bad run for a slasher movie.

The director chosen to bring the machete wielding killer into a new era was none other than Marcus Nispel, who already proved himself an able remake director having already given us the surprisingly solid new spin on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003. Still, one did have reason to worry as he also made the pretty terrible Pathfinder. While this movie does not quite have the deadly serious aura of the Chainsaw remake, it does marry the 80's feel of the series with more modern sensibilities. The action is dynamic, looks great, and shows that with the right 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. The dialogue issue is one that followed this writing tandem from their prior credit, Freddy vs. Jason. I guess it kind of goes with the territory, perhaps it was purposeful homage to the earlier films? It is a minor nit as the movie is quite fun.

This 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. Of course, like the dialogue, the characters could be a throwback element done on purpose. Come to think of it, it seems pretty clear who they want you to actually root for and who you want to see killed. I think I just changed my mind on the annoyingness of the characters. Go figure?

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 few 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? Sure it is, but this is just the introduction, a Cliff's Notes way of getting around the fact that Mrs. Voorhees was the killer originally.

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 (Supernatural's 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."

Clay 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, who I do not particularly care for are forced to spout some terrible dialogue and display very little chemistry. As a matter of fact, 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, a clever way to make you want them to die. The more I think about this, the more and more I think the characters are written pretty well. This is a slasher film with an iconic killer that we like to root for. Why not give us a mix of characters, some to actively despise and want to see killed, one or two likable ones that make us sad to see killed, and a couple to be the survivor types who carry the heart of the movie. Perhaps I am just being too stupid to see the obviousness of it. Whatever, I quite like it.

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.

Derek 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.

This new take on Friday the 13th seems to have divided the fanbase, as is the usual for this type of exercise. I really liked it. It may even be one of my favorites of the series. It has a little bit of the psychology that worked so well in the first few, but is much more visceral. It is violent, mean, and keeps the spirit of Jason alive. It is kind of funny to watch the violence here and think about how the MPAA attacked the earlier entries. This one seems to be quite more violent.

This is stalk and slash done well. It has the needed elements of 80's slasher, drugs, nudity, violence, stupid young folks, and blends it with a more modern bleak atmosphere. This really is a mean movie. It is not original, but so what, it delivers just what I wanted.

There also has to be at least a mention of Daniel Pearl, who was the director of photography. He does a lot to help create this bleak, no one escapes world of Jason with some great lighting an use of shadows. I am not sure any other Friday film has been shot this good. Pearl also did great work on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which is funny as he also filled this role on the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

To bring this thing to a close, let me say that I really like this movie. There is nice work on the characters, archetypes as they may be, there is some nice brutality, some good comedy, gratuitous nudity, and a really good Jason. If you don't like this, so be it. This is a very enjoyable horror movie that is probably a lot better than it has any right to be. And yes, I can only think of one reason why the survivors do what they do at the end/ Sequel! Of course, it is a nice callback to the original and has the poetic justice that has always surrounded Jason and the lake.

Highly Recommended.

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Dell said...

You absolutely nailed this one. A lot of the other F13 flicks are rather tongue-in-cheek. This dispenses with that notion making it so much more brutal. Another nice touch is that Jason is not a completely mindless beast. He's got traps and tripwires set up and really appears to be using his brain to hunt these kids. This also adds to the brutality I might add. This is much better than I expected it to be. And yes, that accounts for the fact that the dialogue is just wretched..."Perfect nipple placement, baby!" Ugh.

Again, great work on this entire franchise.

draven99 said...

Thank you, Wendell, I appreciate you taking the time ti read and comment. It's funny, they mention that line in the Crystal Lake doc, the actor was not exactly fond of it either!

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