I’m of the opinion that the horror/slasher movie remakes we’ve seen in recent years aren’t categorically a bad idea. Perhaps it’s because the originals aren’t terribly sacred to me but I’m actually mildly fascinated by the creative process that goes with unearthing old or foreign properties like The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then modernizing them by adding intricate set design & art direction, moody music-video-style lighting, and some heavily stylized filmmaking. But while some horror remakes have done all these things and also gone on to deliver thought-provoking and gut-wrenching cinema, others put in only enough effort to coast on the reputation of their predecessors. Which category does Marcus Nispel’s new Friday the 13th fall under?
Following one of the longer and more effective pre-title sequences I’ve seen so far this year, Friday the 13th picks up in present day, where a picturesquely diverse group of young adult friends are going to a cabin near Crystal Lake to spend an ostensibly care-free weekend. Leading the pack is the good-looking and gratingly douchebaggy alpha male, Trent (Travis Van Winkle). Fellow alpha male Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) shows up in search of his sister, who he’s convinced vanished near the area, and he clashes predictably with Trent. Not so much a remake as it is a sequel/reboot, the new 13th imagines a world in which Jason somehow came back to find his mother, who was killed in the original 13th, and vowed to take revenge on all future Crystal Lake visitors (thus resembling the events depicted in the first few original 13th sequels). As with many Friday the 13th films, the audience is left to guess at who will die, how they will be dispatched, and what will be the fate of Jason this time around?
I’m not going to spend much more time describing the plot of this film, since most likely you won’t care. I will, however, take a moment to say that Friday the 13th is not a good film by most measures. A lot of the acting is terrible and the dialogue vacillates between intentionally hilarious (“They don’t call me the wood wizard because I masturbate a lot!”) and unintentionally hilarious (frantically searching for his weapon later on in the movie, one character asks “Where are you, gun?!“).
What many of you want to know is simply whether or not this film delivers as a Friday the 13th movie, or as a slasher movie in general. I can confidently say “Yes, it does.” There is plenty of gratuitous nudity on display here, including what is essentially a pornographic sex scene, and a lot of the kills are gruesome and satisfying (Without giving anything away, I will say that my favorite kill in the film prominently involves Richard Burgi’s face). Derek Mears, who takes over for Kane Hodder’s Jason duties this time around, is appropriately agile and menacing as he dispatches his victims one by one. Steve Jablonsky also does a great job as the film’s composer, delivering a surprisingly haunting score.
Yet despite the film’s virtues, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated by the new 13th. The film had an opportunity to add to a beloved franchise and take it into a more interesting direction, or at least get a script that made you care about the characters. Instead it’s content to ask the questions we already know all the answers to: Will the douchebag get what’s coming to him? Will the Asian guy act all goofy and out of control? Will the black guy survive until the end of the movie? As the film approaches its climactic encounter, it actually begins to drag, with scene after scene employing the same, tired omnipresent-Jason-shows-up-completely-out-nowhere-and-then-kills-someone plot device. Jason’s remarkable ability to appear anywhere he wanted at random actually provoked laughter from my audience during a few scenes, which is great if that was the intention, but it certainly removes some of the menace, and even some of the tension. But I suppose one thing the film succeeds at is grounding the franchise back in some vague notion of reality (a necessary feat after the outlandishness of Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason), and sets the stage for the cycle of 13th sequels to start all over again. Whether or not this is a good thing, I leave up to 13th fans and non-fans to debate.
Nonetheless, Friday the 13th is a blast if your expectations are appropriately calibrated. I saw the film at a packed preview screening with a rowdy audience that was respectful enough to stay silent during the tense moments, but playful enough to shout words into the character’s mouths as they engaged in stupidity followed by stupidity. There’s a certain magic in a theater when everyone in the entire audience understands that what they’re watching is playing to the most prurient part of their psyches. We all shared in the joy of knowing that, although Friday the 13th was bad and bad for us, it was nonetheless entertaining and disturbingly thrilling to see an inhumanly strong, masked psychopath kill lots and lots of people. Make no mistake: If you can see such a film under similar circumstances, you will have a great time.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Discuss: What did you think of the new Friday the 13th film?
Be sure to check out Steve Mason’s analysis of how Friday the 13th will perform at the box office this weekend. You can reach David Chen at davechensemail(at)gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or Tumblr.