Conundrum: As a big fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, I walked into Samuel Bayer's remake with the lowest possible expectations, and the result was about two-thirds of a pleasant surprise. I wouldn't say that this budgeted-up rehash is a great movie, or that it has anything on Craven's 1984 original, but at least Bayer keeps his gaze focused on the parts of the material that interest him. The longtime music video director went on record saying neither the Nightmare series or horror movies were personally interesting, and the result is a movie that throws up a clothesline plot and runs towards the finish line, spending as much time in the director's elaborately-envisioned dream world as possible. So, how much credit can I give Bayer for allowing the least amount of annoying teen gunk into his movie?
Take these kids, for instance. Instead of the lovely Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp (in his debut performance), Amanda Wyss, and Jsu Garcia (aka Nick Corri), the remake offers Rooney Mara as Nancy, Kyle Gallner as Quentin, Katie Cassidy as Kris and Thomas Dekker as Jesse. Modern Hollywood slashers tend to run in two directions at once, handing extremely specific character types (40-year-old screenwriters trying to be hip by cramming in the latest pop-culture references) to bland, unremarkable young actors (they ought to start mugging people; you'd never be able to pick any of them out of a lineup). The company assembled here is no different -- the most interesting thing about any of them is that Rooney Mara looks a bit like Emily Blunt -- but Bayer hacks and slashes until there's nothing left but the barest, most necessary exposition, and when so little is asked of the cast, they don't find much time to develop annoying personality traits. Even Aaron Yoo, who I find intensely aggravating, manages to eke out a few tolerable minutes as a video blogger by playing it serious rather than "funny".
I guess the appeal of remakes is the same as the appeal of superhero origin stories, which is to say, it's already written, so all the new writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer need to do is add a lot of head-slappingly on-the-nose dialogue (I'm thinking of the "Futurama" quote: "You can't just have the characters say how they feel! That makes me feel angry!") and a smidgen of extra backstory about Freddy's evil deeds. There are a few momnets where the truth about that backstory is questioned, and both of the possible outcomes are fairly intriguing in my book (either it's revenge, or it's practically a trick on Freddy's part), but the idea isn't expounded upon so much as half-heartedly presented for the audience to consider, and the payoff is so unremarkable, it could hardly be considered a plot beat, much less a twist. Strick and Heisserer also deserve jeers for straight-up ripping off the ending of Freddy vs. Jason (I imagine they didn't see it) and, even worse, thoroughly de-fanging the Nancy character, who is barely present for the first half of the movie, and even does the unthinkable at one moment during the film's big finale. In a moment where her life is threatened, she screams at her boyfriend to help her instead of doing it herself. That's not the Nancy I know!
Then again, even though the original's memorable moments are re-visited, the feeling that these are strangers almost helps the movie. Mara is no Nancy Thompson, so much so that I barely thought about her, or any of the characters in the original, and thusly, Nightmare 2010 plays more like an amped up sequel, as if Freddy's gone to a different town to try and start over. To that end, we have Jackie Earle Haley strapping on the butter knives, clicking his fingers together and scraping the tips along the walls. The filmmakers claimed that making Freddy scary again was one of the big goals, but Haley plays it right down the middle, creating a reasonably menacing presence, while still throwing out buckets of perverted one-liners. The internet, as they always do, has made a big deal about his alien-esque burned face and his growly Rorschach voice, but I thought Haley's take was recognizable, yet different, and highly entertaining.
Most importantly, though, the character gets a grand spotlight in Bayer's visuals, which provide plenty of interesting ground for Krueger to lurk around in. The term "micronaps", genuine or not, is a bit stupid, but Bayer uses the idea pretty well, creating split-second dream sequences that might actually catch a few audience members off-guard. His tributes to the original are also interesting; I liked his takes on the infamous "up-the-wall" kill as well as his reinvention of the "blood ceiling" gag, and his revised version of the ending (the original's only clunky bit) is fairly entertaining, despite sub-par computer graphics. What can I say? I've seen so many movies where the director's heart wasn't in it, and most of them are appalling (a genre-relevant example being the atrocious Halloween 6), but, as a longtime slasher fan, I found Nightmare 2010 to be fitfully entertaining. It's a slippery slope on which to recommend a movie, but I guess "quick and painless" is better than nothing.
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