Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

With some sense of trepidation, I recently subjected myself to the latest Platinum Dunes remake/reboot/re-imagining of a classic eighties slasher film -- A Nightmare on Elm Street.


The Good News: It appears that the screenwriter read my blog entry of a few weeks ago, then went back in a time-machine, and created a Freddy legend that is more "psychologically correct." It now makes sense that Freddy pops up in the dreams of his teen victims because of their past connection to him. He molested them as children.

The idea of Freddy as a "filthy child murderer" in the original always felt incomplete and unbelievable. Incomplete, because nobody just murders kids for the sake of murdering them. Unbelievable, because it would be impossible to keep the story of a local child murderer from the kids in the neighborhood.

So where the original merely hinted that the Freddy in their dreams was a traumatic flashback to childhood molestation, the remake explicitly makes that link between Freddy and the kids he stalks.

And it makes more sense.

The Bad News: The movie just is not scary. It moves in a rushed, ADD kind of way. Frenetic, yet flat. Never feeling real enough to force the audience to invest in the characters or feel their dread.

I wish I could say I liked it, but I didn't -- and I've grouped my reasons into three categories.

1) Disposable Teens

Freddy's new victims are written in such a way that they show almost no traits of survivors of sadistic childhood sexual abuse. If these kids were truly violated by a creep like Freddy, it would affect them in their waking lives, not just their dream lives.

They would have drug addictions, sex addictions, social phobias, and/or intimacy issues. Instead they are shown to be relatively well-adjusted high school students -- a jock, pretty girl, a shy arty girl, a shy arty boy -- with nice enough parents whose biggest waking problem is Dawson's Creek level dating drama. Based on what we learn of their past, they should be much more fucked up (and much more interesting) than they are.

Biology is so, like, stressful

I must give credit to Rooney Mara. She plays Nancy as a sort of mumble-mouthed introverted misfit. Of all of the kids, she comes the closest to hitting the right notes of a girl layered in the toxic shame of an abusive past.

And there are a few scenes where you feel a bit of her distress. One scene where Freddy puts Nancy in a little girl dress and starts to molest her again is particularly freaky.

But these moments of ick are fleeting and never last long enough to sustain a true feeling of dread.

2) What's the rush?
There are moments in horror movies where the filmmaker should violate your trust. He should show you something too raw, take you someplace too dark, and do it much quicker or slower than you expected.

But in this film, there seems to be a concerted effort to cut away from the more disturbing elements before the true horror can really sink in. It all just goes by too fast.

This remake hums as quickly and efficiently as a music video. You don't worry too much about what is around the corner, because (a) you can usually see it coming a mile away, and (b) you can trust that there will be an edit that will take you out of the scary place before things get too disturbing.

I've never found movies with constant quick cuts to be scary -- just irritating.

3) How Evil is He?

There is no real explanation of what exactly Freddy did to these kids, so the depths of his evil is never fully understood. Did he rape them or just fondle them? Did he torture them? How were the finger knives involved? Did he threaten them if they told the secret? Your average episode of Law and Order: SVU would have more details than we are provided with here.

"Show me where the bad man touched you."

It's just hard to judge the magnitude of this Freddy's evil. When Nancy discovers the proof that Freddy molested her vis-a-vis Polaroid pictures, we don't see them. We get no sense of what is on them. By not knowing the extent of Freddy's treachery, we are again distanced from the suffering of the protagonists and it all seems kind of remote and abstract.

Childhood sexual abuse is really disturbing stuff and the filmmakers were correct to bring that element of the Freddy story out into the forefront. Horror is one of the mediums we have for confronting such evils in our society. In fact, one might argue it is horror's sole purpose.

Our protagonists were victimized as children, which is bad enough. But then they are re-victimized through their subconscious years later. This idea has a lot of potential for evoking empathy in the audience and delivering a truly frightening and grueling horror movie experience.

But we never quite get there. It never feels quite real.

When Nancy finally "kills" Freddy, it's generic. We don't feel the years of Nancy's repressed rage bubble to the surface. Nancy never calls Freddy to account for all of the horrible things he did to her and how it fucked up her life. Sure, she kills him, but we never see her truly take her power back. We are robbed of what could have potentially been an awesome catharsis. We get no "Ripley v. Alien 'Get away from her you bitch!'" moment. We don't even get a "Mom v. Orphan 'I'm not your fucking Mommy!'" moment.

Nancy just kills him. It just kind of happens. Then we move quickly on to the next scene.

Efficient as clockwork -- and about as scary.


  1. Hey, love the blog, keep up the good work! Thoroughly entertaining!

  2. Perfect assessment! My sentiments exactly.

  3. TOTALLY agree. and you have such a way with words. also, the photos and their captions add soooo much to the articles!!! more please!! =D

  4. Great review, sir! You really exposed some things in the film I hadn't previously thought of. I completely agree with you about the pace of the film. Makes sense that Bayer did indeed direct music videos before this, doesn't it? Your final argument was probably the most powerful. Excellent stuff altogether. Keep up the great work!

  5. yeah. a lot of people think the new nightmare sucks. I don't think I will watch it.

    Too much respect for the original. Which scared the crap out of me as a wee unguarded child at a sleep over with older neighborhood kids with access to a VCR. I think I was nine. Friggin' scarred me for life.

    I put up like 4 crucifix(es) in my room the next night. My mom was all excited, thinking I was embracing my catholic religion.

    little did she know :)