Nightmare on Elm Street, A (2010)Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 04/30/10 15:00:00
In my youth there were two seminal horror films that made quite an impression on my natural ability to get some shut-eye. The first was Alien, which upon viewing on my neighbor's fancy new VCR, led to the inevitable talk by my dad that it was all make believe. (I was more frightened of Ash the robot then the slimy creature.) The second was Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street, which after a mix-up at the video store was recommended as a suitable replacement for a ten year-old of varied tastes. Even the hard rock credits couldn't soothe me into accepting those earlier words from dad and I was up all night until he came home from the late shift. Thanks to James Cameron and Aliens I was able to face my fears on one of those films a year later and thanks to a number of bad sequels (I still like parts 4 & 7) with a tendency to turn its iconic villain into a stand-up quipster, the Elm St. experience felt like one bad dream that I've now enjoyed several times in the 25 years since my first viewing. In 2010 however it is time to face a new fear. Not the remake, mind you, hopeful to carve out a new generation to the horrors of Freddy Krueger, but that there are more awful directors than ever making them and Samuel Bayer has set the murky depths even lower.The kids of Springwood have been experiencing nightmares. Dean (Kellen Lutz) tries to stay awake drinking coffee in the diner where his friends hang out and Nancy (Rooney Mara) works. The horrifically burned Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) stalks them in their sleep through a boiler room about as big as the Titanic's with the infamous knife glove of his own making. Kris (Katie Cassidy) is starting to wonder about elements of her childhood that might have a connection with this murderer and her recent ex-boyfriend, Jesse (Thomas Dekker) is adapting to the rules of this dreamscape. ("Don't. Fall. Asleep.") His best friend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), meanwhile has a thing for Nancy and is privy to the degenerating behavior of insomniacs who will soon be unable to tell the difference between what's real and what's dream.
Regurgitating the basic premise of A Nightmare On Elm Street is pointless to its legion of followers over the years. Trying to paraphrase the new screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer is a nightmare in and of itself; a jumbling of reimagined homage with a decision to turn Freddy into a full-on child molester that casts an irredeemible shadow over an already empty haunted house. Krueger has often been referred to by that tag by people who clearly did not pay close enough attention to the language of the original. Craven's original intention was as such but ultimately changed him to just a murderer of children rather than an inappropriate toucher. Making the transition to a criminal act that is far too common in our society - particularly within certain institutions - can only work if a serious commentary is offered or is used effectively by playing upon a parent's own worst nightmare. This is already not a film meant for parents, so what purpose does it serve to turn Freddy into a pre-school gardener suspected of unfriendly games with the children?
You read that right. It said "suspected." Because for about 20 minutes we are left with the possible impression that Freddy Krueger, the knife-wielding maniac who killed 20 kids in a backstory in 1984, is just a kindly soul who was hunted down in cold blood by parents of impressionable kids. WHAT???!!! This is an actual plot point that momentarily gives Freddy a revenge motive against the very kids who may have fabricated the truth because they did not know any better. Betcha can't wait for the makers of Left Behind to craft their own horror film about a transferred priest taking out altar boys left and right.
This Elm St. becomes in its own way an investigative mystery rather than a primal scare show as characters go through old newspaper clippings kept conveniently around the house by their guilty parents and web uploads revealing that nearly an entire pre-school class has died in their sleep. (Now there's an angle the parents, including Clancy Brown and Connie Britton, might pay attention to.) It's all leading towards the one thing all the 23-25 year-old teenagers have in common. Not night terrors, but repressed memories. Something carried around by director Samuel Bayer as well. After part of the first act seems determined not to follow the scene-by-scene structure of the 1984 original, Bayer begins filtering in reminders if not direct moments lifted wholesale. Instead of burning herself in the boiler room, Nancy uses a cigarette lighter. Instead of a stairway turned into paste to slow her down, we get a hallway full of blood. Instead of Nancy being pulled into a tub underwater alone in a locked room, Quentin is pulled into a swimming pool in broad daylight with an entire class around to rescue him if need be. Instead of Johnny Depp's geyser of blood springing forth from his bed to the ceiling, a gigantic explosion of blood begins at the ceiling and throws Nancy onto the bed. (Ironically, the original geyser was created with a reverse shot stemming from the ceiling.) Bayer also tips his hat to Craven by utilizing the Scream technique of killing off a "star" you believe would be in it for the long haul, a trick that Bayer over-Psychos to the point we're never exactly sure who our hero or heroine is going to be and by the time it is settled, we are beyond the point of caring.
That fault cannot lie entirely with Bayer, though whatever directorial skills he might possess that are most certainly repressed here, he might have looked into his arsenal for something to wake Rooney Mara up. Outside of a few films on the festival circuit, Mara hasn't exactly broken out yet. And if this performance is any indication, it will stay that way since most actors need more than one expression in their repertoire of emotion. Kuleshov's subject projected more to the audience than Mara, whose work kills off Nancy well before Freddy ever gets his shot. Heather Langenkamp's Nancy was in the great tradition of proactive heroines. Not only was she reading about "Booby traps & improvised anti-personnel devices" but went "exploring" into her dreams to help find out what's happening to her friends. In this Elm St., Freddy gets a late monologue that practically spells out a three-point plan to his own defeat. And it STILL doesn't seem to register. Mara's Nancy is a walking micronap who, when finally reduced to a stand-in for a Pulp Fiction homage by getting a shot of adrenaline into her chest, finally wakes up to say, I kid you not, "Quentin, get him!"A Nightmare On Elm Street promised to get back to the true grit and horror of the original, but attempts to do it by establishing zero mood and not an ounce of suspense. Every scare scene is a BOO moment in the middle of one unimaginative is-it-or-isn't-it dream sequence after another where Freddy appears suddenly in the frame only to wake his prey up and end the scare scene. Not even the bare minimum of commentary is offered on the modern teenagers access to energy drinks and medication to ease their pressures of making the next step into the real world. Gallner's attempt to refill his prescription is so overplayed you might think his character is doing method work for a school production of Requiem for a Dream. Back to the film not being scary though. It just flat out is not, making the whole exercise tame even by the low standards of the Texas Chainsaw and Friday the 13th remakes. The inspired casting of Jackie Earle Haley - an actor whose comeback has been built upon already playing one child molester in Little Children - is drained of every ounce of potential menace until we feel safer being locked up with him in our dreams than his Rorschach from Watchmen in prison (a guy who actually avenged the murder of children.) Freddy is a guy who will punch a hole through one kid's chest, but then just slashes at another's and instead of finishing the job, leaves him for dead so he can still participate in the final showdown. You could not rewrite Samuel Bayer's IMDB resume with more spite when his previous credit to his first feature film is a music video compilation called Absolute Garbage. Admittedly I was ready to write off music video director David Fincher for what he followed up my precious Aliens with, but boy did he bounce back with Seven. After the incompetence exuded by Bayer here, I feel confident in saying it is time to put his feature film career to sleep for good.
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