Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday the 13th (2009)

The problem with this most recent version of Friday the 13th (2009) isn't that it resembles the Friday the 13ths of yesteryear, but that it mostly resembles the remake of another horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

That's not surprising since both remakes have much of the same creative team, mainly director Marcus Nispel, producer Michael Bay, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (who also shot the original Chainsaw). Both are graphically violent, both have a masked killer using various tools to gorily dispatch the teens who wander into their domain, and both have a slick, highly polished production. No doubt the last item makes for a well crafted film from a technical point of view, but does it make for a Friday the 13th movie? I don't think it does.

Friday the 13th has been referred to in some circles as the series' greatest hits, and it's easy to see why. Many plot elements from the previous films, notably the first four, return and are reshuffled. The film opens with Mama Voorhees at the end of her rampage and getting her head chopped off by the last surviving counselor. Decades later, a sack-headed Jason (Derek Mears, who certainly has an imposing physical presence), having witnessed his mother's death, slaughters a group of teens camping near the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake but keeps alive the girl (Amanda Righetti) who reminds him of his mother. Six weeks later, a new group of teens shows up for some partying as does Clay (Jared Padalecki), looking for his missing sister. Jason also gets his hockey mask. The final showdown is in a barn (3 again).

The expected slasher elements are there: the graphic violence, the gratuitous sex and nudity, the cheap jokes (mostly about pot), the weird hillbilly locals, and the archetypal characters such as the jock, the bimbo, the stoner, the black guy, and the nice girl. The setting is updated to the present, so the characters have cellphones, which of course don't work when they need them to, and the bimbo carries a digital camera around.

These teens aren't as innocent as the teens of the earlier movies. Sure, they all smoked pot, drank beer, and engaged in premarital sex, but these modern teens seem more jaded and cynical. They play beer pong, swear a lot more, plan to harvest a stash of marijuana and sell it for a lot of money, seem more surgically enhanced and engage in more outrageous behavior, like topless water skiing. During the sex scene, the girl records the act with her camera and plays it on the TV. Draw what conclusions you will about the continued decline of society.

The earlier, more serious Friday the 13th movies had a strong degree of naturalism, but Jason himself felt like something altogether different. He was less of a masked slasher and more of a force of a nature, a supernatural avenger who wrought punishment on these foolish people who have transgressed in some moral way. Note how his rampages were usually accompanied by thunderstorms and he seemed to appear of out nowhere.

Jason is presented more as a mere mortal. We see where we lives and all the tunnels he's built to get around the campgrounds. We see him select the hockey mask and even chasing after people at a run when the time calls for it. He also uses bear traps and sets up an early-warning system that rings a series of bells to alert him when someone is coming. This is more plausible than an undead behemoth, but it feels more like something Leatherface or the killers from Wrong Turn would do. This more realistic Jason loses some of the mystique that made him Jason.

While Jason is presented is realistic terms, the rest of the movie has all the bearings of a well-budgeted Hollywood film, which is what it is. The production values are top notch, but again, it doesn't feel like a Friday the 13th movie. The series often had something of a low-budget, seedy, sleazy atmosphere, a bit scruffy and rough around the edges, and that was part of the charm. It gave the movies something of a dangerous edge. The remake is too brightly lit, too clean, too safe.

And everyone's pretty. Even the geeks and stoners look like CW Network stars.

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