Last night, I watched the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street as directed by Samuel Bayer (making his feature debut) based on a script by Wesley Strick (the Cape Fear remake, Wolf, and Doom) and Eric Hesserer (the upcoming The Thing remake and Final Destination 5) based on the classic film written and directed by Wes Craven.
As in the original, A Nightmare on Elm Street tells the story of a group of teenagers who are being systematically hunted in their dreams by an all-too-real boogeyman. If they die in their dreams, they die for real.
I am a huge fan of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, specifically of its lead character, Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp, who is one of my favourite actresses.) It’s incredibly well-written with strong characters and an intense storyline that preys on our basic fears as human beings. This film has influenced me in countless ways as both a woman and as a filmmaker. I want to be like Nancy, so brave in spite of her fears, and I want to write characters, male and female, that inspire others as I have been inspired by her. I want to write stories like ANoES, stories that examine good and evil, the relationship between the two and how people become either good or evil (and, of course, the Machiavellian aspects to the two, but I digress.)
Obviously, I was biased when I went in to watch this remake, but I honestly wanted it to be good. I wanted the writers and the director to Get It, to understand the characters and the mythology that Craven created and Englund and Langenkamp expounded on with their performances of those intense characters. I really wanted to like it. Instead, I walked out of the theatre more angry at a movie than I’ve been in a long time and, as I tweeted while the credits rolled, I wished to invoke Jon Stewart’s “Go f*ck yourself” choir and direct them to Warner Bros. (though it’s a New Line Cinemas film, and Bob Shaye is credited as Executive Producer, New Line hasn’t existed as a standalone studio since February 2008 when Warner absorbed them and Bob Shaye resigned from the company when that happened. The remake was greenlit in mid to late 2008, I think. Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and Heather Langenkamp were not consulted.)
I couldn’t have written this review last night. I was too angry and, honestly, too tired. It’s a good thing I waited because while I’m still angry, I’m mostly disappointed in what really could have been a great flick. In fact, I may come back to this review several times to rephrase things to make my points more clear.
First, I’ll go into what I liked about the film. I was pleasantly surprised by the direction, deftly handled by Samuel Bayer. I was afraid the whole thing was going to look like a crappy music video just based on the trailers and while there was just too much CGI, I think he did a good job.
The cinematography was good, even if it borrowed a bit from the sequels in terms of lighting, but I’m pleased with DP Jeff Cutter’s work.
The music, by Steve Jablonsky (a Platinum Dunes mainstay), was very good, building on Charles Bernstein’s original theme at just the right points, but bringing new depth to the musical landscape of the film.
My favourite performance in the movie is from Katie Cassidy who played Kris (the equivalent of Tina from the original.) I won’t be able to bring myself to watch Melrose Place for her, but I will keep my eye on her for the future. She did a fantastic job with a character who was given more screen time than she should’ve had and was far better written than the new Nancy, but I’ll get to that shortly. I have to wonder why she would not put up the top on her convertible, but still engage the car alarm, though.
The effects were very good, though there was just too much CGI, and the burn make-up on Freddy was ace, even if he did look like a “wet alien cat” as one reviewer put it.
Finally...Freddy. The franchise has morphed into the Freddy Show and this remake reflects that in the loving attention to detail given to the Clawed One. I have to give Strick and Hesserer credit for taking Freddy to the level that Craven couldn’t when they bluntly confronted Freddy’s paedophilia and gave him that level of connection to Nancy. And Jackie Earle Haley was great as Freddy. It’s hard to not compare him to Robert Englund, but he brought his own form of menace to the role, just as I hoped he would. This Freddy is filled with rage and you feel it. However, and this is huge, his penchant for cracking off one-liners is still there and instead of underlining his rage, it’s distracting.
Now, before I head to the things I hated about the film, I want to give a heads up to the Twihards who are going to plunk down their (parents’) hard earned cash to watch Kellan Lutz sit there and look pretty: he doesn’t last beyond the opening title card. Sorry for the spoiler, but he was brought in specifically to steal your cash. While I think Twilight’s a freakin’ joke, I can’t let you fans waste your money without that word of warning.
The writers were careful to include little details: the film’s set in Ohio, which is where Craven is from and where the original was supposed to take place, but budgetary concerns made him change it to LA. Subsequent entries in the series moved it to Ohio, but that breaks continuity within the canon. They also kept the address, 1428 Elm Street. As a fan, I appreciate those little touches. The house is similar enough to invoke memories of the original and dissimilar enough to be its own place.
What I didn’t like about the Nightmare remake: EVERYTHING ELSE.
So much attention was paid to Freddy and his backstory in the script that relatively little attention was given to the rest of the film. They had fantastic actors playing the main adult figures (Connie Britton and Clancy Brown) and they were frustratingly underused and underdeveloped.
Jesse (the equivalent of Rod from the original), here portrayed by Thomas Dekker, was ridiculously flat, over the top, and boring. Quentin (he would be the Glenn), played by Kyle Gallner, was okay, but wishywashy.
Finally, we get to Nancy Holbrook (Nancy Thompson in the original), here played by Rooney Mara. She is supposed to be the Everygirl who has to go up against Freddy on her own, essentially. She’s supposed to learn the truth and deal with it. I think Mara gave it her best, but the character felt like an afterthought, as though the writers said, “Oh, yeah...Nancy...” with a roll of their eyes and a snigger.
Kris was better written and with some easy adjustments could’ve been Nancy. Instead we get a character who says she knows what’s going on and yet has to be told everything by all of the male characters who seem to be doing all of the research and by her mom who’s really there as filler. In fact, there are three women in the whole movie and if you add them together you might get one character and most of that character would be Kris. They’ve reduced Nancy to little more than your typical freaky chick Final Girl and given her past with Freddy, it should’ve been a more explosive finale with her rising up to really defeat his Evil. Instead, it was weak and anger inducing. It makes me want to cry and to puke to write this, but in this film, Nancy was Freddy’s toy.
At least the writers were conscientious enough to change her last name so we still have our Nancy Thompson, the only Nancy there ever was.
I know everyone has different feelings when it comes to the Elm Street franchise and most of the fans are fans of Freddy. There was a guy in the audience for our midnight last night who was wearing the red and green sweater and a brown fedora. I hope the characterization in this film gave him a wake-up call: Freddy was a paedophiliac child murderer before the series made him a cuddlebunny. He’s not a character to be admired. I fell into that trap, too. I have quite a collection of Freddy memorabilia. In my defense, there are no Nancy action figures except the one of her in the tub. If there were, believe me, I would have had them right alongside my Freddy figures, but she doesn’t hold the same fascination for anyone else, apparently and certainly not for the toy makers out there.
All in all, if the writer had just spent more time building the teenaged characters and spent just as much time on Nancy as they had on Freddy, I would’ve loved this flick because almost everything else was in place. Instead, I’m left almost gutted in disappointment by this misguided film.