Saturday, May 1, 2010

Don't Fall Asleep.

I know I'm probably alone in this, but the new remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was the most anticipated movie for me in a long time. I've told people that I might see Iron Man 2 in theaters. I have no plans to see Kick-Ass until the DVD release. I have yet to see Avatar even. But for the past couple of months I've been going nuts every time a new trailer for Nightmare was released. It's been well over a year (possibly going on two now) since I've seen a film first run, and the one to break my streak is A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I have lots of thoughts on the film itself, but first I just wanted to register a minor complaint. It may have been the fact that I went to a matinee for my first viewing, but the crowd was a little small, very low energy. This might sound like a strange thing to say in reference to a slasher movie of all things, but at the end of the film one person started clapping. No one joined in and it was as if everyone thought they were too cool to even laugh at him. I remember seeing one of the first showings of
The Dark Knight and there was a moment at the end where the whole audience clapped for the film. Now Nolan, Bale and especially Ledger may not have been able to hear us, but it was more about acknowledging that everyone in that room had just taken part in something special, and not worrying if we looked silly responding to it.

On top of that, I had four of the most annoying teenage girls who ever lived sitting directly behind me, in a theater with plenty of room to have stayed away from strangers. They kept giggling at inappropriate times. This was my first time seeing the film (at a price I could barely afford I might add), and for my first viewing I just wanted to enjoy what the filmmakers did right and pick apart the flaws later on my own time. Also a few times these girls predicted Nancy was about to die. I flat out took offense when they said this.

Annoying teenage girls aside, I really liked the movie. It was made by Michael Bay's production company, which has made most of the recent remakes including
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13
th. These films have their defenders and their detractors, but in my opinion, remake or not, the Friday the 13th remake is the best film in the series. It had 11 films worth of backlog to build from and did so better than any remake I've seen recently again, horror or not. It acknowledged every phase of the franchise without dwelling on segments that were best left just touched upon. But most importantly it kept everything that made the series work while offering several logical updates and general logical cohesion to the story.

Nightmare is definitely from this same mold.

It stands up to the original quite well. Most slasher flicks would look fairly similar with 1980's special effects or 2010 special effects, but the
Nightmare series, with its liquid dream logic, is one that always would've been better with
CGI and modern practical effects, which are used to make every classic scene from the original just a few notches better.

Another great thing about this modern version is the science applied. A few years ago a movie called
Prom Night tried to be the "anti-slasher movie." It billed itself as a "thriller" and tried to tame down the violence of the kills. The problem is we that live in a world where CSI is one of the most popular shows on television, and people are far too aware of what it actually takes to kill someone. It was painfully obvious that most of the victims in that film would've easily survived their attacks, effectively rendering Prom a messed-up story everyone talks about at the 10 year reunion, which they'll all be attending because they're all still alive. Meanwhile the new Nightmare milks every last bit of tension from the real effects of insomnia.

There are some story adjustments I really liked and some I'm not a big fan of. First off, the
entire supporting
cast's character's were renamed. Even Nancy is now Nancy Holbrook, not Nancy Thompson. But, in general, if you know the original, each character has a counterpart in this remake. That being said, the general supporting characters in this film are written far better than the original. Tina was a slut and a victim, plain and simple. Her counterpart Kris, on the other hand, is a tragic heroine in search of the truth. Tina's boyfriend Rod was just a jerk, but Kris' boyfriend has real depth and layers.

Also, most of the cliche's about the kids earning their deaths are gone. Kris
sleeps with her boyfriend, there's no indication there's any sex going on and, more so, it's treated that if there is any, it's none of our business. The only "drug user" is Quentin, who is simply always looking for higher grade stimulants...for obvious reasons.

Also, there's a real mystery angle to the story. It builds off of past history, but changes things enough that even someone who's seen every one of the films several times will still often be kept guessing. The real theme of the story involves honesty and evasion. In this story it seems that evasion is the only crime punishable by death. If you are unwilling to face the truth, or do your best to hide it, you will pay. Only through total, ruthless honesty does salvation lie.

That being said, onto my disappointments. The biggest is Nancy herself, along with those directly involved with her. Rooney Mara plays a distant, haunted Nancy. She does a good job of surviving and her detective skills are impressive, but I wouldn't describe her as heroic. Also the parental figures just have it together too well. Nancy's mother in this film is a doctor, not a pathetic drunk. Her father, the police officer, is replaced by her love interest's father, the principal. No one seems
truly damaged by what they've done in this film, even though their actions are far more morally ambiguous than in the original.

This also takes away one of the
original's most powerful scenes. In the book The Myth of the American Superhero, there is much talk about the archetype of the inept authority figure, such as the bureaucrat, the sheriff, etc., who stands in the way of the lone hero doing what needs done. In the original Nightmare, this idea goes so far that it encompasses all adults. In the climax of the film, Nancy tucks her mother into bed, effectively becoming the adult herself, before bravely going to sleep herself, in order to fight the fight that no one else can against Krueger. When the new Nancy goes through her version of this scene, it just lacks the power of the original.

Also, you may have noticed that I've said very little about the man himself. I'll just say that Jackie Earle Haley had eight films and a TV series to study and he learned what he needed to. His humor is still intact, and creepy instead of goofy, like it
could've been. He also does a very good job of establishing the character of the living Krueger. When he needs to, he comes off as very sympathetic, which is important, as his initial innocence is in question at one point in the film. By this I mean that it is implied that, when he was lynched, he was actually innocent of the crimes of which he was accused, and his current state is just a form of Pied Piper's revenge.

But the name of this blog is
Superhero Babylon, not
Supervillain Babylon. My love for the Nightmare series has always been built upon its relationship to the final girl archetype. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that everything of value in that archetype originated with this series, and I hope that this new series does not view all of that as a relic of the past.

In closing, I'll just remind you all of Nancy Thompson's immortal words from the original, more valuable in today's world than ever: "
Whatever you do...Don't fall asleep!"