Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is finally in theaters everywhere today. Personally, my enthusiasm for the project has waxed and waned over the years. I was wary when I first heard at Comic-Con that the project was under way, but when I had the chance to chat with the director a few weeks ago, I found myself getting more upbeat about the movie’s prospects. Here’s a guy who’s been responsible for some of the most iconic music video imagery in the past two decades, tackling a franchise rife with creative possibilities. Surely, he’d be able to wring some memorable filmmaking out of it, right?
So, did Bayer succeed? Hit the jump for some of my thoughts, and feel free to leave your own in the comments. Spoilers are allowed after this point.
The trouble with the movie begins right after the opening credits, as we’re introduced to our cadre of hapless high schoolers, all of whom are given cringe-worthy and unimaginative dialogue throughout these proceedings. The movie struck me as similar to one of the later Final Destination films, where the sole purpose of every character is to show up, then get killed. It was difficult for me to muster any empathy for these people because they were so overwhelmingly generic. None of the actors deliver performances that are memorable in the slightest.
This all wouldn’t be a problem if the kills were any good. Instead, the film is almost entirely devoid of tension or suspense. The first scene, in which Kellan Lutz is quickly dispatched of, felt so drawn-out and dull that the payoff was barely worth it. Thus, the opening can be taken to represent the feel of the entire film.
The new Nightmare introduces the concept micro-naps, in which people fall asleep involuntarily after they’ve been awake too long. This allows Bayer to get in a few more unnecessary jump-scares, as strange, bizarre crap appears out of nowhere to frighten the protagonists. I was reminded of Hitchcock’s explanation of the difference between surprise and suspense:
Four men [are] sitting at a table playing poker. The scene is rather boring. Suddenly, after 15 minutes, we hear a big bang – it turns out there was a bomb under the table. This is called surprise as it isn’t what we expected would happen. If we watch the same scene again with the important difference that we have seen the bomb being placed under the table and the timer set to 11 AM, and we can see a watch in the background, the same scene becomes very intense and almost unbearable – we are sitting there hoping the timer will fail, the game is interrupted or the hero leaves the table in time, before the blast. This is called suspense.
I’ll leave it to you to guess which one this movie focuses more on.
There are a handful of frightening moments with some imaginative imagery, and I actually liked the way Bayer re-imagined some of the scenes from the original. Furthermore, I had no problems with Jackie Earle Haley’s performance or his make-up (the latter of which lots of critics seem to be disparaging). Overall, though, I’d say your time is better spent elsewhere this weekend.
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