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Morgan Briarwood ([personal profile] briarwood) wrote2010-05-10 09:48 am
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Movie Review: Nightmare on Elm Street

Michael Bay's company, Platinum Dunes, has pretty much cornered the market in horror movie remakes. Now, I haven't seen them all. But I've noticed a common factor in the ones I have seen, and it's this: brilliant opening which swiftly descends into plotless gore-fest.

The Nightmare on Elm Street remake avoids the "plotless" part by a whisker, but otherwise follows the same pattern. Now, I should begin by pointing out that I'm not a huge fan of the original. I have a thing about plots that have some internal logic and Nightmare always bugged me, with its inability to distinguish between the kind of sleep where you can dream and the kind where you don't. The remake fails on that score even more spectacularly. I suspect fans of the original will feel the remake has completely missed the point; the delicious surrealism of the original franchise has been replaced by a fluid transition between reality and the dreamscape that nonetheless has a clear demarkation between the two. It's interesting; the way scenes shift so you're not certain it's a dream at first, but when the shift is complete there's no doubt of it, because the dreamworld is this steampunk-ish, industrial setting that I guess represents Freddy's "world".

The opening, though, is almost worth the price of admission on its own: the first victim, aware of what's happening, desperate to stay awake, the shifts from real to dream to real until you're really not certain which is which until that clawed hand appears - and I defy anyone not to jump at that moment, it's one of the few real scares in the film - and then the inevitable but still shocking ending. (Katie Cassidy screams like a Doctor Who companion.)

This launches the story proper. I won't re-hash the plot, as there's not enough of one to matter: evil monster with razor-blade glove stalks and murders kids in their dreams pretty much sums it up. But there are a couple of things worth mentioning. In the original, Freddy Kruger was a psycho who murdered children and was in turn lynched by the grieving parents, returning from beyond the grave to wreak vengeance. The remake keeps the lynching, but changes the setup somewhat. It's an interesting choice: instead of a killer, Freddy is portrayed as a child molester (the extent of his acts with the children is kept vague) making the kids who are being killed in the movie more directly responsible for his fiery death (because they told). The movie also flirts with the possibility that Freddy might have been an innocent victim of children making up stories, and that was a moment that gave me a real chill, because it completely greyed up the good vs evil theme so central to the original.

The parts that had to be updated for this decade worked well: cell phones instead of land lines, using the internet to track down the past, and one victim's video-blog all lend a sense of realism to the film, because it's all so familiar. There's an attempt to bring science and the technicalities of sleep into the story that doesn't really work. The discussion of "micro-naps" allowing Freddy to pop up when the victim is awake kinda reminded me of those old L'Oreal adverts: "Here comes the science bit - concentrate". It wasn't necessary at all. But another "science bit" about how long it takes for the brain to shut down after the heart stops - that was truly chilling.

But all in all, I was unimpressed by Jackie Earle Haley's version of Freddy. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe he talks too much and the actor's voice is too distinctive. Maybe it's just the wrong face under all that makeup. I honestly don't know. He just didn't work for me. The young actors all do okay - I was impressed by Rooney Mara as Nancy - and the impossibility of them being schoolkids doesn't matter too much as the only key scene set in the school is the obligatory falling-asleep-in-class bit.

And, as always with Michael Bay's productions, it does overdo the sexualisation of violence. There's one scene where Nancy falls asleep in the bathtub, and the clawed hand comes up between her legs...the way it's filmed, it could have been porn. Totally unnecessary. It's a pity, because that distracts from the real horror of that scene: this poor girl who's struggling to act like everything's normal, when it's anything but.

But by going for gritty realism, the film lacks the surreal scenes that make Wes Craven's Nightmare so unique. For me that's a plus: this was the movie that put me off the horror genre for a long time, but it does have the effect of reducing this movie to just another slasher flick. Also, it lacks Johnny Depp.

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