JANUARY 30, 2009
Ever since I saw the teaser at Comic Con, I have been on board with Platinum Dunes' Friday the 13th remake. I liked the cast, I liked Jason's look, and I liked that they seemingly were trying really hard to make an F13 film that would sit comfortably with parts 1-4 (swap out 3 for 6, and that's the best of the franchise, by far). And while the end product is satisfying and occasionally great, there are some blunders that keep it from being the "ultimate Jason" movie that it could have easily been with another pass or two at the script.
Let's start with what works. The opening scene, which quickly explains the events of the original Friday, is a great idea. You can't ignore the mother, but you don't want to dwell on it either, so they blend it with the opening credits and get it out of the way. Also, Derek Mears is a great Jason - he's got the physicality and presence to match up with the best of them, and Scott Stoddard has done a great job with the makeup, making him look human, but not "just a guy in a mask", like he often appeared in the earlier films. You really feel that he's a guy who's lived in the woods for his whole life. And I really liked that they didn't come up with a bunch of "unique" kils - Jason sticks to the basics (machete, axe, bare hands) for the most part. He even uses an arrow for the first time since the original I believe. Like I said in my review for Part 2 - it's the films without gimmicks, with Jason just being Jason, that turn out the best.
But for every plus, there is a minus. The biggest is the rather awkward setup. After the "Mrs. Voorhees" prologue, we are introduced to a group of kids. But Jared Padalecki and the other top billed actors are not among them, so you know they aren't long for this world - they are ultimately just there to provide some fodder and introduce Amanda Righetti's character, who Padalecki will spend the entire film looking for once he is finally introduced. The odd thing is: this throwaway group is actually more fun and "Friday"-esque than the real group that comes along later. So while you are enjoying their antics and interactions (not to mention the fact that Righetti and America Olivo are among the most beautiful actresses in franchise history), you know they're all goners, and you just kind of want to get on to the actual movie. It's essentially a second prologue, albeit one that lasts about 15-20 minutes. As a result, by the time the REAL group came along, I felt like I was already watching a sequel. And furthermore, this limits the amount of time that THESE kids can spend together before separating and meeting their demise, which is a drag.
There is one bright spot in the main group though: Travis Van Winkle's character. He's a douchebag, but the kind of douchebag that you love. Nearly every one of his lines is laugh out loud worthy, particularly his interactions with Padalecki, and he steals the movie away from everyone that isn't Jason. Padalecki, on the other hand, is almost a non-factor in the movie. He's playing a variant of the Rob character from Final Chapter, but he just doesn't fit into the film at all. Maybe it's because he's a much more familiar face than the others, but whatever the cause, he sticks out like a sore thumb. The other kids are natural and fun and function as they are supposed to, no complaints there.
But I couldn't help but be distracted by one of the guys, who has an unfortunate resemblance to actor Mike Vogel from the Chainsaw remake. I know it's the same director and DP as that film, but I wasn't expecting their Friday to look SO MUCH like it. It technically looks great and beautiful, I never once buy that they are in New Jersey (it was actually shot in the same town as Tobe Hooper's original Massacre), and Marcus Nispel/Daniel Pearl have filtered the hell out of everything (really orange daytime, really blue nighttime) - nothing in the movie looks natural, resulting in a movie that actually looks the complete opposite from a Friday film, which is naturally lit and thus kind of bland. They went from one extreme to another, and thus at times I felt like I was watching a sequel to their Chainsaw film whenever Jason wasn't on screen. At one point, Padelecki and one of the girls discover a wheelchair in the underground tunnel system that Jason uses (he's sort of a Rambo-y survivalist here, with traps and everything), and while it's supposed to be a little reference to Friday 2, the first thing that popped in my mind was finding Franklin in Hooper's Chainsaw 2, because so much of the film felt from that universe instead of Friday's.
One final gripe concerns Jason's mother issues. Righetti looks like her, so he keeps her chained up. How is that "fun"? Between that and the traps he had lying around the area, it started to become dangerously close to Saw/Hostel territory (I actually wrote "Jigson" down in my notes). To its credit, he simply chains her up and her attempts to get free don't involve any self-inclicted pain, but still: the sight of a girl chained up and screaming is not what I think of when I think of "sticking to the tone of Fridays 1-4" (Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's own words). I know it's a "re-imagining" and yadda yadda, but they should have figured a way to come up with their own unique story (which they have) while keeping the light tone intact. Maybe we just have different ideas of what the first few films were like - I think of completely political incorrect teens, fake scares, and keeping the Final Girl out of harm's way for the entire film so she can find all of her dead friends later, but none of those things are present here.
However, silver lining and all - the "search for missing sister" setup allows for the film to have essentially two Final Girls. Righetti is one, the other is Danielle Panabaker as the "nice girl" of the 2nd group. You know the fates of every other character*, so it was nice to have a little bit of suspense whenever one of the two girls were in danger, because you suspect that one of them will buy it, you're just not sure which. It's one of the best ways around an inherent flaw in the slasher formula I've ever seen.
I know the review sounds mostly negative, but that's because I glossed over the great things about it, so you can enjoy it for yourself, while backing up my problems so you know I'm not just bitching. Everyone knows I am in Michael Bay's corner (I was the only one to cheer when his name came onscreen), and I've enjoyed all of PD's other remakes. And I enjoyed this one too; if 1-4 were their goal, then they have come pretty close to making it (it's better than 3, actually). I was hoping for something closer to 1 or 2, and maybe with time I will feel that way (I should note that some of my fellow horror nerds, such as Devin from CHUD and Ryan from Shock, loved it almost unconditionally). It's the best since 6 by far, which in itself is a huge accomplishment, as I was starting to suspect that it was just not possible to make a good Jason film anymore. The Dunes have done that; I just hope next time they make a great one.
What say you?
*At one point the token black guy goes to look for his missing (dead) friend, and says something like "I will surprise you at every turn!". Some guy in the back of the theater yelled "I'm surprised you weren't the first to die!!!" I laughed heartily for a solid 5 minutes.