Friday the 13th (2009)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/13/09 00:00:00
When it was announced that “Friday the 13th,” the infamous 1980 mad slasher film whose surprise success at the box-office (where it came in second only to “The Empire Strikes Back” and even trounced a little thing called “The Shining”) kicked off a seemingly endless slew of sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs that offended critics (at least those not named Joe Bob Briggs), annoyed parents and thrilled teenagers for the next 29 years, was the latest notable horror title to earn the dubious honor of getting a remake in the hopes of reintroducing the property to a new generation of gorehounds, I don’t recall the same level of outrage among older horror fans that greeted the news of new versions of such classics as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Halloween,” “When a Stranger Calls” or the planned revisions of “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “The Stepfather.” If I had to guess, I would say that there are two reasons why this normally vociferous group hasn’t been more up in (severed) arms over the prospect of this film. For starters, since the basic storyline--horny and isolated teens go off to Camp Crystal Lake (with the occasional field trip to New York or outer space) to get stoned and laid and wind up getting reduced to puddles of grape jelly by a hulking brute with a hockey mask and a machete--remained unchanged from film to film outside of a stray plot detail or two (such as tossing in the then-popular 3-D gimmick, turning Jason into a Frankenstein-like creation brought back to life with a bolt of lightning, having some dopey ambulance driver with a mask take over the killing duties for one installment and promising not once, but twice, that we were about to see the finale to the whole saga), the sequels have pretty much served as one long string of remakes. More importantly, unlike the other films that I have mentioned, even the most devoted fans of the series in general and the original in particular would be hard-pressed to suggest that any of the “Friday the 13th” movies are actually any good, let alone deserving to be called classics--while the original certainly deserves a place in the horror pantheon due to the magnitude of its success, the influence it would hold over the genre for a long time after its release and, most importantly, the groundbreaking makeup effects devised by the legendary Tom Savini, it hasn’t really held up very well over the ensuing years and the sequels, with the exception of the gloriously goofy monster mash “Freddy vs. Jason,” have essentially ran the gamut from pointless to unwatchable.Therefore, if ever there was a horror film that might actually benefit from the remake process, “Friday the 13th” would have to be it--after all, it isn’t like the people responsible for this new take could possibly make something dumber and more off-putting than the earlier films, could they? And yet, as impossible as such a thing would seem to be, this new version of “Friday the 13th”--whether you call it a remake, a reimagining, a reboot or a continuation (the film itself seems to try to be each at various times)--is a flat-out atrocity that doesn’t even clear the absurdly low bar set by the lesser sequels, let alone the original. Although more money has certainly been spent to bring this installment to the screen than most of the previous films--enough to afford fancier camera moves, stage blood that doesn’t look quite so much like Karo syrup and a cast of actors that includes a few vaguely recognizable faces and breasts--clearly none of it went to creating a screenplay that contained any genuine suspense, terror or even a few examples of creative bloodletting. Instead, this is just another horror craptacular filled with annoying characters acting like idiots while a personality-free lunk picks them off one by one in sequences that aren’t as much frightening as they are deeply unpleasant and borderline sadistic. Watching this film is like watching a virtual-reality version of “Friday the 13th” in which all the junk from the older films has been replicated at only triple the cost.
Actually, the film doesn’t so much remake the original as it does cherry-pick elements from the first three movies along with bits from any number of other horror films--I won’t spoil any since I am guessing that many bored genre fans will want to while away the running time by playing “Spot the Reference.” In fact, the material related directly to the first film is condensed into the opening credits with a restaging of that film’s finale in which the Final Girl (who is a lot hotter and blonder than her earlier incarnation) does battle with Mrs. Voorhees, who, as everyone but Drew Barrymore and my mother knows, was the one picking off the counselors of Camp Crystal Lake because their counterparts two decades earlier allowed her mongoloid son Jason (Derek Mears) to drown while engaging in a bit of naughtiness. Unfortunately, this stuff is handled so abruptly that unless you are intimately familiar with the nuances of the series (yeah, I kind of laughed when I wrote those words), you will most likely have no idea of what is going on or who the people fighting even are and if you are familiar with the original, you will most likely bemoan how badly director Marcus Nispel has recreated one of the most talked-about moments from the first films. From this point, the film jumps ahead about 30 years or so as five dopey kids--Good Girl Whitney (Amanda Righetti), Schmuck Boyfriend Mike (Nick Mennell), Horny Dope Richie (Ben Feldman), Hornier Dopette Amanda (America Olivio) and Uber-Nerd Wade (Jonathan Sadowski)--are hiking through the woods in search of a massive pot stash that is growing out there. Unfortunately for them, it appears that they have stumbled upon Jason’s pot stash (which at least answers the nagging question of how he has managed to survive over the years while inspiring nutty reveries about what “Pineapple Express” might have turned out with Jason in the James Franco role) and the ruins of the former Camp Crystal Lake and before long, he has graphically offed all of the intruders but Whitney--since we don’t actually see her grisly demise, we can assume that either the filmmakers decided to show a bit of restraint or that she will shockingly pop up again a little later in the show. (Seriously, just imagine Jason doing the Franco part and tell me that wouldn’t be brilliant--at the very least, the violent showdown in that film would have been over with a lot quicker.)
Anyway, the film picks up six weeks later as yet another group of pretty young idiots--Good Girl Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), Schmuck Boyfriend Trent (Travis Van Winkle), Horny Dope Nolan (Ryan Hansen), Horny Dopette #1 Chelsea (Willa Ford), Horny Dopette #2 Bree (Julianna Guill), Wacky Minority (Asian-American division) Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and Wacky Minority (African-American division) Lawrence (Arlen Escarpta)--arrive at a cabin located along Crystal Lake belonging to Trent’s family to spend the weekend of getting stoned, having sex and the like. At the same time, Brooding Hunk Clay (Jared Padalecki) comes roaring into town on his motorcycle on a desperate search for his sister, Whitney and while the local cops insist that there is no proof that anything happened to her or her friends, a crazy old woman assures him that anyone who goes missing in town is as good as dead. Eventually, Clay joins up with the others at the cabin and goes off with Jenna to search for Whitney while the others go into their individual sitting duck routines in anticipation of Jason’s imminent arrival by smoking more pot, taking off more clothes, having more sex and blithely walking in dark rooms without somehow noticing the presence (or the presumed odor) of the hulking behemoth lurking right nearby.
Unlike the recent retreads of “Halloween” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” there has been no attempt on the part of screenwriters Damian Shannon & Mark Swift to supply Jason with some kind of elaborate backstory designed to “explain” the character and his motivations beyond the fact that he was first allowed to die and then saw his mommy being decapitated while seeking revenge for his death. That said, it is evident from the results that they haven’t really done much of anything other than borrow stuff that they liked from the earlier films and spackle it all together with the absolute minimum of plot and character development. The storyline is as stupid as ever and pretty much every single character is so irritating, unlikable or downright idiotic that while we can’t wait to see them get slaughtered, we also can’t stand spending any time focusing on them while waiting for Jason to finally show up and put us out of our misery. In order to pad out both the film and the body count, the screenplay even drags in a couple of utterly extraneous characters for no other reason that to immediately kill them off as a sop to the more bloodthirsty audience members--one is an idiot cop and the other is a local pot dealer who is so loathsome that he might as well be named Torgo and whose only apparent purpose is to supply the film with its climactic deus ex woodchipper. As for the killings, which are the whole reason for its existence in the first place, they are pretty disappointing as well. Oh sure, they are bloody enough, I suppose, and if the victim happens to be a naked female, Jason manages to off them in such a way that allows viewers to get one more eyeful after they die. Beyond that, however, they are pretty much the standard array of stabbings and slashings (though he does burn one girl to death in her sleeping bag) that are notable only for their sadism--it is one thing to stab someone in the neck with an icepick, I suppose, but it is another to spend what feels like five minutes watching as said ice pick is twisted around in said neck. There is a line between gory fun and pointless brutality and this film is constantly tripping over it.
At this point, some of you may be wondering how I can sit here and disparage “Friday the 13th” for being a gory and idiotic piece of trash when I essentially praised the equally gory “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” only a couple of weeks ago. As ridiculous as it may seem to someone who hasn’t seen more than their fair share of slasher movies over the years, there are differences separating the two. For one thing, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” isn’t a movie as much as it is an excuse to use the three-dimensional gimmick to throw buckets of blood (and worse) into the laps of moviegoers and if you accept it on those terms, it is reasonably entertaining as long as you see it in that format. (God help anyone forced to view it in its 2-D incarnation.) The other difference is that “My Bloody Valentine” managed to find just the right tone for its brand of Grand Guignol goofiness--it never took itself seriously for a second and the gore was so deliberately over-the-top that it was impossible to be offended by its excesses. The trouble with “Friday the 13th,” on the other hand, is that it keeps flipping back and forth between tones. At times, it tries to approximate the scuzzy atmosphere (outside of Trent’s cabin, every other locale seen in the film is of the sub-tarpaper shack variety and is populated by filth-encrusted weirdoes) and deeply unpleasant cruelty that Nispel brought into his version of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” At other times, however, it tries to also cop an ironic and self-referential attitude that deliberately pumps up the genre clichés to such a degree (topless waterskiing, anyone?) in order to score knowing laughs from fans of the series. Either approach would be acceptable, I suppose, but by doing both, Nispel shoots himself in both feet--the silliness undercuts the dark and nasty tone he is trying to achieve and the brutality winds up undercutting the attempts at comedy by virtue of its sheer unpleasantness.“Friday the 13th” is 97 minutes of blood-soaked crapola and the only authentically scary moment that occurred at the screening I attended came after the movie when I was riding on the escalator directly in front of some lady who somehow managed to work the words “dichotomy” and “I Spit on Your Grave” into the same sentence. No doubt there will be some devoted gorehounds out there who will be willing to praise it for no other reason than the fact that it supplies plenty of blood and breasts but anyone who does that is the kind of easy-to-please twits who would presumably be more at home judging carnival freak shows than horror movies. You wanna see a good horror movie this weekend--one that works without resorting to close-ups of spurting veins and people jumping out of dark corners every five minutes? Then get thee to the multiplex and check out the brilliant 3-D fantasy “Coraline.” Sure, it may be a family film and it may be somewhat deficient in regards to body count (both kinds), but it knows how to creep out even the most jaded moviegoers in ways that will stick with you for a while without ever resorting to cheap shocks. By comparison, “Friday the 13th” is nothing more than greasy kids stuff without any brains to speak of other than the ones splattered on the walls.
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