Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Jason X (2002)

Jason X (2002)

Rated R for strong horror violence, language and some sexuality

Score: 3 out of 5

When a horror franchise has all but run out of ideas, there's only one place left for it to go: outer space. Friday the 13th was no different in that regard, and honestly, the only real surprise is that it took ten movies to get to that point. After the fourth film, the hilariously-titled "final chapter", Jason Voorhees was replaced with a crazed paramedic in the fifth film, brought back as a zombie from the sixth onward, pit against Not-Carrie White in the seventh, sent to New York in the eighth (except, due to a lack of a budget for city shooting, they spent two-thirds of the movie on a cruise ship), and turned into a body-surfing demon slug in the ninth. By the tenth, New Line was hard at work finally getting the long-anticipated Freddy vs. Jason into production, and after a wait of nearly a decade and counting, they figured it was worth it to remind people that Jason still existed. And on that front, it does its job. It's exactly the kind of stupid, disposable trash you'd expect from a film whose plot can be summed up as "Jason in space!", and it knows it. Rather than try to take itself seriously, it instead serves up great kills, oddball setups, and a campy atmosphere that, together, deliver the slasher goods.

In the near future of 2010, Jason Voorhees has somehow been captured. Unable to kill him, the military debates whether to cryogenically freeze him so that he'll never be a threat again, as a scientist named Rowan LaFontaine suggests, or research his regenerative properties, as Dr. Wimmer (played by David Cronenberg in a cameo) wants to do. While they're having this little conversation, Jason breaks out and starts killing soldiers and scientists, and is only stopped when Rowan implements her option -- but not before Jason gets in one last good blow that causes her to be frozen alongside him. Fast-forward to the year 2455, and an expedition from a university on Earth Two is visiting the long-abandoned, ecologically-ravaged wasteland of Earth Prime, where they find Jason and Rowan still frozen and perfectly preserved after all these years; they revive Rowan using their advanced nano-medical technology, while Jason, being Jason, wakes up on his own after thawing out and gets back to what he does best... but this time, on a spaceship!!! What's more, the head of the expedition, Professor Lowe, had launched it in order to recover artifacts from Earth Prime in order to pay off a debt, and so he is extremely reluctant to destroy the body of the legendary killer Jason Voorhees (who can fetch a very pretty penny) until it is far too late.

Yes, you did read that correctly: this expedition was launched by a university. And you know what that means: there are still horny teenagers in 2455. In fact, Jason waking up from his long slumber happens precisely when a couple is having sex, almost as though he can psychically detect when kids are getting down and dirty. The people on the ship may be wearing futuristic-looking outfits, but young people are still young people in any century, and all the slasher movie archetypes are represented on board the ship. The whole film has a wry, dark sense of humor like this, most notably in a scene where the main characters, in an effort to buy themselves some time, reprogram the ship's holodeck to trap Jason in a simulation of Camp Crystal Lake, complete with a pair of scantily-clad counselors who love to drink, smoke pot, and have premarital sex. Throw in an android woman and a squad of space marines (because why not?), and you've got a film that knows what it is: an installment in a long-running and long-dormant franchise that's being trotted out again long past its sell-by date, and behaves accordingly. The world-building (there's an "Occupied Zone" somewhere, hockey was outlawed) exists strictly as a handful of throwaway lines to establish that this is the future, and promptly gets out of the way so it can get to the good stuff. It doesn't feel much like classic Friday, but it does feel like a cheesy '90s sci-fi adventure series with way more blood and gore -- and honestly, I didn't have much of a problem. It's well-shot, well-scored, and just hit the sweet spot of fun.

None of the characters were all that impressive. The final girl Rowan was arguably the least interesting of the bunch, getting virtually no screen time or development after the first act except to look scared. A fish-out-of-water story is hinted at for her early on, with the 21st-century Rowan trying to cope with how everything has changed (not unlike Ellen Ripley at the start of Aliens), but it's quickly forgotten, with Rowan having zero problem adapting to 25th-century technology. Lexa Doig's flat performance does her character no favors, either. Her compatriots weren't much better, though, with only the space marine Brodski, the computer whiz Tsunaron, his android companion Kay-Em 14, and the hot chick Janessa being of any note. Most of them exist to get splattered, and didn't really need personalities beyond some flavor of flat, annoying, and/or assholish. You're not rooting for any of these people to live, you're cheering for them to die.

And fortunately, the deaths are good. Kane Hodder kicks ass as Jason in his fourth outing under the hockey mask, the defining actor to play the unstoppable badass freak of nature. Quite a few of his kills are done with his bare hands, including snapped necks, backs broken over his knee, and faces slammed against the wall, and he sells their brutality as easily on par with some of the more obviously gory deaths. As for his use of weapons... well, you know how liquid nitrogen can cause such severe frostbite that body parts shatter after freezing solid? (Allegedly; the Mythbusters tested this one and found it very hard to replicate, sadly.) That serves as the basis for what is quite possibly one of the best kills in the entire franchise, and there are quite a few more to go around. Jason is also happy to exploit a surgical saw, a hull breach, a combat simulator, an industrial drill of some kind, the entire ship itself, and of course, his old classic machete to do damage, and the viscera is quite a sight for a mainstream horror movie made before the torture porn era. It culminates with him getting turned into a cyborg, a moment that's just as ridiculous as it sounds, but again, it takes a stupid idea and just runs with it, making it crazy-awesome in the process.

The Bottom Line:

It's junk food, no doubt about it, and for a diehard Friday fan this movie would be a disgrace. But, it's tasty junk food. As far as Friday films go, there are much better ones out there, but there are also far worse, and given that this was released just as the post-modern teen horror wave had jumped the shark, it easily could've fallen into the "far worse" camp. Come for the novelty, stay for the carnage, camp, and cheap thrills.

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