I'm a fairly traditional guy, and one thing that always brings a smile to my face is a good underdog story. My favorite thing to hear in filmmaker interviews is how, after studio battles and budget cutbacks, they had that first test screening: an unsuspecting audience sees a future classic and it brings the house down. With the remake craze sweeping Hollywood, I wonder if that's even possible. Friday the 13th is a fun movie, with some definite tweaks of the formula -- the kids are nice! Jason's quick and clever! -- but I found myself walking out of the theater thinking that as sad as it may be, there are only so many ways to hack a teenager up with a machete.
The plot concerns Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), banging on the doors surrounding Crystal Lake looking for his missing sister (Amanda Righetti). Along the way, he runs into a group of twentysomethings looking to spend a weekend partying. These include the rich-boy host Trent (Travis Van Winkle) and his girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), counterpart couple Nolan (Ryan Hansen) and Chelsea (Willa Ford), temptress Bree (Juliana Guill), and token minorities Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and Mike (Arlen Escarpeta). What none of them know (but we know oh-so-well) is that Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) lurks around the corner, waiting to ruin everyone's good time.
The best improvement that 30 years has given Friday the 13th is a cast of occasionally likable characters. Travis Van Winkle turns in the best performance in the movie as Trent, using every opportunity to perfectly portray the kind of petulant rich boy who would invite a group of college kids to his pristine, high-class cabin to show off his wealth, and then get upset when his friends touch anything. Extra credit goes to Guill, whose "revealing" performance is another best-of-series highlight as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand, we have Padalecki: despite being the lead, he's afforded the least character development -- beyond the fact that he's looking for his sister, we learn almost nothing about him. As for the movie's first flashback, I might have cut it entirely; while the plot point is Friday lore, and Nana Visitor only has a few seconds of screen time, she's no Betsy Palmer.
I was mild on Marcus Nispel's 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I was even less in favor of the color-drained palette he used on that film (as many filmmakers have done to boring effect since Saving Private Ryan). Luckily, despite a similarly-toned opening (complete with annoying flashing credits), Friday the 13th turns out to be much more colorful. Otherwise, Nispel's direction is pretty much the same; there are a couple of cool moments, but nothing to write home about. The movie's pacing is a bit on the slow side, and the screenplay is adequate, although I have to ask: who writes a woodchipper into a horror movie and doesn't make full use of it?
Then there's Jason. The main thing the film does right is utilize Jason's 21st century speed. Mears has a good presence (similar to Ken Kirzinger's take in Freddy vs. Jason) but he gets a lot more chances to terrorize, rushing kids with his machete raised. Impressively, despite the inherent appeal of Jason rampaging through the film, Nispel strikes the right balance between Jason's modern adrenaline rush and some classic 80's style lurking. The kills are not as good: they may be technically proficient, but there's nothing here that rivals the cleverness of Kevin Bacon's neck-puncturing surprise or Crispin Glover's corkscrew mayhem.
Don't get me wrong -- Friday the 13th delivers on the expectations of most of its core audience. How could it not? If, after 30 years and 11 previous entries in the franchise, we can't figure out what's tried and true, I wouldn't know what to think. And yet that robs us, the audience, of the surprise kids had in 1980 when the filmmakers had that one last trick up their sleeves to get you taking your friends back to see it again and again. Watching some of the originals prior to seeing the remake, I started to think that I love Jason but only like his movies, and for all its Hollywood glitz, the new Friday the 13th is the same old story. In his newest outing, Jason Voorhees doesn't reinvent the wheel, and that's exactly what's wrong with it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.