Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Good news: I'm finally done with my parade of every last Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Bad news: I had to cap it off with the worst one yet.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language

So we finally come to the end of Elm St. with this: the inevitable remake. All the cool horror movies were doing it in the '00s, so it's no surprise that eventually, A Nightmare on Elm Street would be rebooted. It's just odd that a) it took until 2010 for it to happen, and b) it sucked so badly, especially considering that the remakes of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which had many of the same people behind them, managed to be passable. Make no mistake, the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is easily the worst film in the entire series. Granted, there have been as many bad entries in this series as there have been good ones, but while Freddy's Revenge was the interestingly weird kind of bad, The Dream Child was mired in mediocrity but didn't outright suck, and even Freddy's Dead, the nadir of the original series, was the laugh-out-loud hilarious kind of bad, the remake is the sort of bad that makes me wish it had never been made. It is an all-around terrible movie filled with poor writing, poor acting, and poor scares, made that much worse by how they collectively overwhelm the one decision that I actually liked unapologetically.

That decision was the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy Krueger. While Haley's Freddy initially seemed "off" compared to Robert Englund's iconic take on the character (his digitally-altered "Batman voice" did him few favors), and to be honest I still prefer Englund's take, in time he grew on me, and by the end of the film I had grown to love, fear, and respect him. While Englund's Freddy always had hints of being somewhat sexually maladjusted, especially when he took on his more comedic persona in the later films, Haley played Freddy as a full-blown pervert who gets off on killing, frequently ending his lines with a little "heh heh heh" laugh as he prepares to dig his claw into some teenage flesh. Here, Freddy was a pedophile in life rather than a murderer, and Haley's creep-show performance added a whole new layer of "disturbing" onto the character. This is a guy who doesn't just want to kill Nancy, he wants to have his way with her, just like he did when she was a little girl and he was still alive. Between his acting and the grotesque makeup he was under, Haley's Freddy stood out as a tropical island paradise in a sea of suck. Make no mistake, Haley's performance didn't save this film, not by a long shot, but he came as close as any one actor could have done given the mess around him.

Unfortunately, that mess spans far and wide and infects everything else it touches. Haley aside, the acting here is subpar at best. Yes, the acting in the original was a mixed bag, but it's practically Oscar-worthy compared to this. Out of the main cast, only Katie Cassidy as Kris (this film's rough equivalent of Tina from the original) and Kyle Gallner as Quentin (replacing Glenn) come out with their pride intact, chiefly because they were the only ones who bothered to emote when reading their lines. Cassidy in particular, despite looking a bit too old to be a convincing teenager, deserved much better than to be used as a decoy protagonist for the first act, only to be killed off in a twist that will shock only those who haven't seen the original. Thomas Dekker's Jesse (replacing Rod) was dull, while Kellan Lutz's performance as the opening victim Dean proved once more why his career should've ended after Twilight. And while I never really understood why so many people loved John Saxon as Nancy's dad in the original Nightmare (he was alright, but not amazing or anything), I can certainly say that his performance was vastly superior to that of Connie Britton as Nancy's mom, who functions the same role in this film and who sleepwalks through her performance.

And last, but certainly not least, we come to our heroine Nancy, played by Rooney Mara. Now, I've seen Mara give good performances. She was amazing as Lisbeth Salander in the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for instance, and deserved all the praise she received in that role. However, she brought absolutely none of that to this film. Initially, I thought her acting was simply understated, but as the film went on, her wooden performance had me utterly dumbfounded as to how she was cast as the leading lady in a big-budget Hollywood production. I can barely even call the character Nancy, as she so badly disgraces the original; I know some fans of the original have taken to calling her "Rooncy" for precisely that reason. (At least they changed her last name to Holbrook instead of Thompson.) If it were up to me, she would've been cast as Kris and killed off early, while Katie Cassidy would've been given the lead role. The worst part of it is that, by her own admission, she deliberately "self-sabotaged" her performance and stunk up the room with bad acting, viewing herself as above the material and by her own account having an awful time on set.

Ms. Patricia Rooney Mara, you will probably never read this, but on the off chance that you do, take this from it: you had better thank your lucky stars that David Fincher found you and gave you the role of a lifetime. In Hollywood, unless you're a living legend, you're only as good as your last role, and your performance here could have easily strangled your acting career in its cradle. If you say you didn't want the role to begin with, then why did you take it in the first place, instead of handing it off to someone who actually wanted to fill the shoes of Heather Langenkamp? Sure, looking at the rest of this film's cast, that unknown who never was might not have been great, but she certainly would've beaten someone who went out of her way to deliver one of the worst performances I've ever seen in a mainstream horror movie. Haley was an Academy Award nominee, and he still turned in the best work he could, so a then-unknown actress like yourself had no excuse. The least you could've done was completely ham it up and at least create a memorable heroine.

The problems don't stop at the acting, unfortunately. The scares are incredibly lacking, the film's few legitimate frights all coming from Haley's performance with no help offered by director Samuel Bayer. Cheap jump scares and false jump scares are the name of the game, with no atmosphere, dread, or tension to speak of. The dreamworld is stylishly dark, but there's nothing that isn't cribbed from either the original films or from the Silent Hill games. The film also introduces "micronaps", which are what happens when somebody stays awake for so long that their brain starts shutting down while they're still awake in order to save energy. Apparently, these are a real phenomenon, but the film exploits them as a cheap way to have Freddy come at the heroes without having to go into dream sequences.

Speaking of, the kills are weak despite the R rating. While there's quite a bit of gore, with a throat cut open, Freddy's arm going through someone's chest, a new version of Tina's death (that isn't nearly as effective), and lots of deep and bloody gashes, there was little creativity to any of the deaths. Only one stood out, more for the horrifying idea it presented than for anything inherent in that particular kill -- as Freddy eagerly explains to one of his victims, a person's brain stays alive for seven minutes after the heart stops beating, leaving Freddy time to do some victory laps on him. With CGI offering numerous new ways for Freddy to graphically kill his victims that he couldn't employ in past films due to the limitations of '80s special effects, it's unbelievable that the makers of this film couldn't come up with anything interesting to show on screen besides the usual slice and dice. As straight-faced as the original film was, even it had the famous geyser of blood, as well as the bathtub scene with Nancy, a scene this film teases but never follows through on. The worst part is that the 15-minute "making of" featurette attached to the DVD showed little clips that hinted at far more inventive dream sequences that were ultimately cut from the theatrical version (which is what I watched). I've heard that the unrated director's cut includes a lot of this stuff, and it probably wouldn't make the acting any better, but if I ever have to watch this again, I'd easily check out that version to see just how much damage was done in the editing room.

Finally, we get into the writing. The biggest change, as I mentioned earlier, is that Freddy Krueger, rather than being a child murderer in life, was a pedophile whose job as a gardener at a daycare center gave him access to over a dozen little girls and boys, with the parents not even waiting for a trial to exact their revenge against him (after all, they don't want their kids to have to recount their abuse in front of a courtroom). It's actually an idea borrowed from the early drafts of the original film, which dropped it due to concern that it would be seen as exploiting a then-recent series of child abuse cases in California. It's an interesting idea on the surface, and the flashbacks to Freddy when he was still alive gave Haley another opportunity to lay on the creepy. (He'd played a pedophile before in Little Children, so it wasn't new territory for him.) Unfortunately, the film goes out of its way to ruin it with a subplot in which the question of whether or not Freddy was actually guilty is raised. Had the film had the guts to go through with this, it would've painted a very different picture of Freddy and the kids' parents that would have cast the latter in a far less sympathetic light while offering some fine commentary on mob justice, portraying the parents as vigilantes who murdered an innocent man on mere suspicion -- and Freddy's return as his vengeance for having been effectively lynched for a crime he didn't commit. Of course, at the end it turns out Freddy really was a pedophile, as Nancy and Quentin find graphic pictures of his acts in his "secret room" at the long-shuttered daycare. (Why the police didn't find these pictures ages ago is anyone's guess.) It undermines everything that had been built up over the course of the film, turning that whole subplot into a useless diversion that adds nothing to the film. All that is on top of the usual crappy dialogue and false leads, like a subplot involving one kid who has a vlog that serves no purpose except to throw another cheap jolt at viewers and incorporate a "found footage" angle that goes nowhere.

Score: 1 out of 5

If I could remove a single Nightmare film from existence, it would be this one without hesitation. Only one person brought any sort of passion, and his performance as Freddy went to waste in an utter mess of a slasher film. It's a disgrace to the series.

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