Now in theaters!
Directed by Samuel Bayer
This isn’t my Freddy Krueger.
This is a Krueger for a generation of horror fans reveling in the bleak excess and extremes they’ve witnessed in films like Hostel and Saw. This is a Krueger who doesn’t want to have any fun.
Not that I was expecting a wise-cracking dream stalker, but going into a reboot of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street one would expect it might channel the essence of Freddy Krueger’s original persona. At least that Krueger (played with gusto by Robert Englund), even in the first film, knew how to be entertaining. Sitting through the opening credits, however, and seeing a “story by” credit being granted to Wesley Strick (you’d expect it to go to Craven, or no “story” credit to be given at all) you know something is amiss and big changes are a-comin’. Those changes are not for the better.
Taking the same drop-dead dreary atmosphere that threatened to suffocate its audience in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Platinum Dunes team and director Samuel Bayer have applied it to the town of Springwood. Where it worked just fine for Leatherface and his bloodthirsty family, the tone here saps the energy right out of quaint neighborhood of Elm Street which – unlike the original film – isn’t much of a character in and of itself. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to gauge the geography of Elm Street at all and where the troubled teens lived in respect to one another. But I digress. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a lifeless film that shares none of the imagination with its forefather and the sequels that followed. It’s not a picture that knows subtlety well and forces its hand all too often to enhance themes that are, in essence, creepy but the execution isn’t enough to get under your skin.
In this update, the kids who once lived on Elm Street are broken up. They’re off living their lives as teens in various parts of the country many years after their time together at pre-school, but a few remain in Springwood and they’re all suffering painful and terrifying dreams that permeate their sleep. Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Kris (Katie Cassidy, looking way too old for high school) realize something is wrong after their pal Dean seemingly cuts his throat open during the film’s graphic and effective opening sequence at the Springwood diner. There’s far too much story focus on Kris – essentially the “Tina” character – early on and that steals from any investment we might put into Nancy, who the narrative revisits as if “oh yeah, we need to get back to her.” Once Nancy re-enters the picture, it’s business as usual. Like the original film, the kids realize they’re all dreaming about the same burned man with the clawed hand, the fedora and the red and green sweater.
Writers Strick and Eric Heisserer deviate from the source material somewhat when it comes to unraveling the Freddy Krueger mystery and his motivations. There’s the requisite – and I can’t believe they put this in – “research” scene on dreams that Nancy and her pal Quentin (a mopey Kyle Gallner who’s just shy of being a sibling to his goth character in Jennifer’s Body) participate in. The film also calls into play a Pied Piper element. Freddy is trying to lead the Elm Street kids somewhere and to a harsh revelation. One can easily get what his scheme is early on, but here’s the problem: A Nightmare on Elm Street is in love with its freshened-up conceit (i.e. his relationship with the Elm Street kids) so much that the movie forgets to be inventive.
Oh sure, the story introduces the absurd idea of micro naps, which allows Freddy to appear and strike whenever the kids doze off for even a second, but it cheapens the film because the micro naps serve no other purpose than to provide weak âboo” gags. These detract from any potential elaborate dream sequences which are sorely lacking in innovation. Bayer and company retain a level of familiarity, importing many iconic dreams from the original film – the bathtub, the body bag in the school hallway, the bedroom slice ân dice – and go figure, these got the most audience reaction, but there’s nothing new brought to the table. With such a broad palette to work with, there are a lot of missed opportunities. Freddy doesn’t toy all that much with his prey. He doesn’t pull any mind games (cutting his fingers off, slicing his torso) to intimidate the kids. He simply goes for the throat. That’s a bit of a drag and it certainly doesn’t elevate him beyond anything more than single-minded supernatural maniac out for revenge. How Freddy goes about his business – what fuels him, so to speak – has also been altered to suit the aggressive nature of his enhanced perversity thus spelling things out for a modern audience.
Jackie Earle Haley is fine, but not entirely memorable, as Krueger. A modest effort with impressive make-up. His scale of emotion is limited to mumbling, sneering or simply shouting, however. He’s a victim of the material which doesn’t allow him too much freedom to show many shades. There are not too many colors to the kids either as they sulk their way through under-lit scenes that often wash their faces out in shadows.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a languid, unsuccessful attempt to tap into the extreme darkness of Krueger’s nature and it simply leaves you cold. Rewriting an icon is no easy task and perhaps doing a distant sequel that recognizes the established franchise would have fared better. Again, no easy task there either – especially after Freddy vs. Jason (which this reboot quotes almost with the line, “Welcome to my world, bitch!”) – but maybe a sequel of sorts would have sat more comfortably with this longtime Krueger fan who was hopeful to find a glimmer of anything that made me dig the character in the first place. Bayer stated to us at one time that he hoped to do for Krueger what The Dark Knight did for Batman. Now having seen Bayer’s Nightmare I have to ask, “Why so serious?”