Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.
A Nightmare on Elm Street had some good scares and some good blood, but bland actors and characters left me a little disappointed.
A group of friends is having the same nightmare featuring a man with a red and green striped sweater, a glove with knives for fingers and a face that has been burned beyond recognition. One by one they're being killed off in their sleep but no one seems to know why. But slowly the truth starts to come out and the friends must now band together to solve the mystery of the gloved man and why he's haunting their nightmares.
Let me first say that Freddy Krueger is by far my favorite horror character of all time. In fact, he may be my favorite movie character, period. And I'm not against remaking these kinds of 80s horror icons and have been a fan of most of the remakes. This past weekend I re-watched the original A Nightmare on Elm Street from 1984 to refresh my memory of why I'm so enamored by the character. Here's what I realized - Freddy doesn't really do much in the original film. His total screen time can't be more than 5-7 minutes. Yet his presence is always there, always just around the corner, even if you can't see him. Freddy became an iconic character in the subsequent films because he got more screen time. I knew perfectly well that in this remake, they weren't going to go with the less-is-more tact and instead show us a lot more of Freddy and I was looking forward to that. Except the filmmakers kind of forgot one thing... when Freddy isn't on screen, you need characters that we like. And this movie didn't have that at all.
Now, a lot of horror films have poorly planned out characters and still somehow manage to rise above it. A lot of that has to do with the actors. No one here was really all that famous for us to latch on to, especially the two main kids who survive most of the film. Yes, there was one of the vampires from Twilight but that's really about all the star power there was. So I'm left watching a cast of unknowns which means they have to work doubly hard to get me to care for them. And I really didn't. In fact, I didn't even hate them so much I wanted them to die. I simply didn't care one way or another. Now, are most people going to go to see this movie because of the characters? Probably not, but I bet you feel the same way I did when I left the theater... that there was something missing from the movie. And then it'll dawn on you that it was the fact that none of the kids on screen meant a thing to you. And on top of that, you had a first time feature director who was never really quite sure what to do. The movie didn't have good pacing, the imagery was so-so and beyond some good tense what's-gonnna-happen-now moments, there wasn't a lot to hang your hat on.
What's most interesting to me about this film, and these remakes in general, is how our view of these characters have changed over the years. Let's boil this down to the simple fact that now, instead of being afraid of serial killers, we're rooting for them. Jason, Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter and Freddy amongst others. These are seriously bad men who have done the worst things to humans you can imagine, and yet they've become so iconic we now cheer for them. My audience barely let out a whisper when one of the kids fights back yet there were at least three sets of applause when Freddy butchered someone. We're in this new age of the anti-hero where we're willing to forgive heinous acts because the people committing them are, for lack of a better word, cool. And I think the filmmakers realized that audiences were going to cheer the bad guy because they gave Freddy a slightly different story than in the original. **SPOILER ALERT - skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the plot ruined** In the original we never see any of Freddy's story, it's simply told by one of the parents in a 30 second conversation - Freddy killed 20 kids, a group of parents hunted him down and burned him alive. In the remake Freddy molested a group of kids, was hunted down and burned alive - but he might actually be innocent. Imagine that being the true story of Freddy Krueger - that he was innocent and that's why he's getting his revenge. But that would make him a real sympathetic character that we would cheer for even more. So the writer throws that at us, but then hits us with the real story - Freddy is so deranged he not only molested all these kids, but now he's been killing them off one by one till only his favorite is left in a permanent coma so he can 'play' with her till the end of time. Freddy at the moment we realize this becomes such a bad character we can't possibly still cheer for him, can we? Yet, when the girl fights back and 'kills' Freddy, there was barely a peep. But when Freddy made one final appearance the crowd went nuts.
The fun part of the whole nightmare scenario in the original films was that you never knew what was real and what was a dream. The remake takes that a step farther by introducing the idea of micro-sleeps, where your brain is so tired it falls asleep for a few seconds at a time, even while your eyes are open and you're seemingly awake. This allows even more random seconds of scares because at an given moment, the character could fall asleep and Freddy would appear. And that's really where the enjoyment of the movie came from. There were a lot of these scare moments, where you either had no idea something was about to happen and it scared you, or the camera held on a scene for a few seconds too long and then unleashed a scare. Both were effective for what they wanted to achieve - getting the audience to jump out of their seats.
Finally, the really big question - how was Jackie Earle Haley as the icon Freddy Krueger? Jackie was amazing, no doubt. His makeup on the other hand, was not. It was a little too smooth looking for my taste and didn't feel scary. And let's face it, Jackie isn't the most imposing of actors to begin with so his body wasn't menacing. But his mannerism and especially his voice was truly terrifying. I think if they were able to bulk him up a little, add some height and scar him some more, he'd have been great. I'll try not to compare him to Robert Englund who was simply brilliant (and should have had a cameo!) but on his own, Haley was strong enough to fill the shoes. The other thing Freddy was known for was being a wise-ass and this version of Freddy was given enough of those lines to keep me happy, along with being really, really creepy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked A Nightmare on Elm Street but was disappointed. I think my love of the character of Freddy is what made me like the movie more than I would if it had been someone else. Yes, there were some good scares and yes, Freddy was a great character, but the rest of the cast, the direction and the pacing of the film was rather weak. I can only presume there will be a sequel so here's hoping they tighten everything up the next time around.