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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

REVIEW - A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

Directed by: Samuel Bayer
Written by: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner
Music by: Steve Jablonsky
Release date: April 30, 2010


Personally, I've never had an issue with the idea of a Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Yes, the original is great and all, but after seven instalments plus one crossover, the quality of the series had plummeted and Freddy had become a victim of his own popularity. In almost every new addition the scares were sparse, the comedy had been amped up to 11, and everything had descended into self-parody. As a fan of the series, a darker, less campy and more contemporary reimagining that would wash away the putrid taste of the original series' shortcomings sounded like music to my ears. But needless to say I had my concerns when I discovered that Platinum Dunes were serving as producers. For those of you who don't know, Platinum Dunes is owned by Transformers director Michael Bay, who has a God-given talent of destroying everything he touches, and unfortunately he usually touches beloved franchises. The company has never put out a single well-received movie, and best of all, it specialises in horror remakes. Could A Nightmare on Elm Street possibly be the one to break the chain, or is this the latest in a long uninspired line?

Nightmare's basic plot is that there's a group of teenagers being haunted in their dreams by a man with knives for fingers and a love for hats and green-and-red striped jumpers. You die in the dream, you die in reality. Teenagers have to find a way to stop Freddy before he kills them all. Etc, etc. You've probably heard it before.


In fact, that's the biggest problem here. This movie doesn't even attempt to make something new, and instead of a reimagining, we have a soulless, run-of-the-mill, literal remake. Even if the opening scene is fairly effective, almost everything here has already been done better in the original. Iconic moments have been lazily duplicated and/or ruined (the scene featuring Freddy trying to burst through Nancy's bedroom wall is overdone to extremely weak effect), there are many repeats or rewordings of memorable lines from previous Elm Street outings, and the plot is almost the exact same story. For a supposed horror movie, there's also a severe lack of actual horror. Most of the attempted frights are done through "ooga-booga" jump scares with amped-up audio, and it lacks the tension of Craven's original.

This movie marks director Samuel Bayer's (Michael Bay's cousin, perhaps?) feature-film debut, having previously worked exclusively on music videos. A lot of it looks good visually, and there's a scene in a pharmacy that repeatedly intercuts between dream and reality that's quite effective. However, most of the direction is blunt and scatterbrained, and Bayer's lack of experience when it comes to feature-filmmaking is apparent in many shots that have no regard for characters, pacing or storytelling. Instead of toying with the audience's perceptions of what is and isn't real, here it's usually easy to tell which is which (often thanks to a change in lighting that represents the transition). The characters are constantly confused, but you aren't. 

Of course we have to address the elephant in the room, Freddy Krueger himself. Getting a versatile and talented actor like Jackie Earle Haley who looks just as creepy without makeup as he does under it is an inspired choice. But here, he's just... OK. He's a bit more detestable than before, which is evident as he decides to lick Nancy up the neck and let out a repulsive chuckle, and he's more believable as a serial killer. He even has a little habit of rubbing his finger-knives together, like he's itching to get you. Yet despite Haley's relative malevolence and a couple of choice lines (which are unusual to hear as the majority of the dialogue is stilted), he feels a bit bland and doesn't really have much of a presence. Haley is easily capable of making this role his own, but the material annoyingly refuses to give him the full opportunity. The makeup doesn't help either: the choice to make Freddy look more like an actual burn victim is a good one, but something about the execution is slightly off and makes him look like an alien or something. The picture below is one of the more flattering ones in comparison.


We also get a little bit of an origin story for Freddy this time around, and find out that here he's not only a serial killer, but a physical and sexual abuser of children, as we see when a young Nancy is shown to have claw-shaped scratches on her back. When the parents of the children find out what he's been doing, they hunt him down and burn him alive. As a bit of background for the character it's fine and it does make him just a tad creepier/more hateable, but the fear of the unknown is more powerful than any backstory. Thankfully, his ability to infiltrate people's dreams is never explained. 

Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner play Nancy and Quentin respectively, and are really the only protagonists worth any mention here as the rest either have limited screentime or eventually die gruesome deaths. They're both great actors and Quentin is probably the most likeable character of them all, even if that isn't saying too much. But Nancy spends most of her time screaming, falling asleep and looking bored, and Nightmare's script not only stunts Haley's performance, but Mara's as well.


Some unfamiliar with the original may find some slight enjoyment out of it, but the Nightmare on Elm Street remake is dull and pointless. If you're unfamiliar with the franchise and choose to give it a go, you have two options: 1) a dated but infinitely better movie, or 2) a lackluster but more fashionable imitation. The choice is yours, but if you go with the latter, pray you don't fall asleep.