Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch, Ah-Ah-Ah-AH" A Review of "Friday the 13th"

When I was young, a monster roamed the movie screens, and his name was Jason Voorhees. Every couple of years he would come back from the dead to wreak havoc on another group of immoral teenagers before being put back to sleep again. Unfortunately as I grew older, his movies grew lamer; Jason battled a telekinetic girl, took a cruise to New York, was revealed to be some sort of demon slug, and was eventually sent into space and made into a cyborg in what could only be called outright parody. It was sad to see this once proud beast become a joke; that ends now!

“Friday the 13th” is not so much a remake as the type of reboot that comic book heroes tend to go through every decade or so once it becomes implausible that a guy from the forties is still running around in tights battling villains who are also from the forties. The opening moments of the film retcon the events at the end of the original “Friday the 13th”, and as the film progresses we see sackhead Jason (a la part 2), and eventually the hockey mask wearing Jason we all identify with the series.

This is not the exactly the Jason of my childhood though; that Jason was a slow hulking monster who could catch up to you with a fast walk no matter how fast you ran, and would generally just kill you without much of a show. This new Jason is slimmer, faster, smarter, and, if possible, more sadistic than his past self. He runs, he builds, he plans, he sets traps, he plays with his victims, he even takes prisoners. Normally I dislike these kinds of changes (like my opinion of the running zombies is the “Dawn of the Dead” “remake”), but I think this really works well for a modern Jason.

The film starts with Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti: “The O.C.”, “The Mentalist”) and her friends head off to Crystal Lake in search of a mythical field of marijuana and a weekend of camping. They do find the weed, but then fall prey to the standard rules of the “Friday the 13th” series. Wander off on your own? Dead! Drink? Dead! Have sex? Dead! Do drugs? Dead! This all happens before the title even comes onto the screen.

Flash forward a month, and we find Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki: “Supernatural”, “Gilmore Girls”), Whitney's brother, still looking for her. He runs across a group of teens who make up the standard crew of slasher movie victims; the douche bag, the slut, the stoner, the good-girl, the token black guy, etc. Once we've introduced all of the players, the fun begins.

This movie is very by the books, but that is part of what makes it so faithful to the spirit of the original series (before they got into all the truly supernatural drek). It obeys the traditional rules of the 80's morality tale slasher flick, but is not afraid to tweak them periodically because it knows that you, the viewer, know the rules. The overall effect of this is a film that feels fresh, but also feels like it can stand along side the best of the original series.

If you like to be scared, you're going to want to check this movie out in theaters. While most of the scares in the film are of the booga-booga Jason jumps out, or a body drops out of nowhere variety, there is a constant sense of dread once things get going. Is Jason in the shower? Behind the door? Outside the window? Is he right behind you? He could be in any of these places, or none of them, and the fact you know he is going to kill any given character at some point makes this film a very tense experience.

Ultimately what makes “Friday the 13th” work where other remakes have failed is that it doesn't try to totally re-invent Jason or re-create the earlier films; instead it tries to recapture the feel of the early films, and it succeeds on nearly every account. I got a real sense of what I loved about the original series as I watched this. Oh, and don't be afraid that Michael Bay's name is on this movie; there's only one unnecessary explosion in it.

While it would be incorrect to call this a “great” film, it has been so long since there has been a good traditional slasher movie that fans of the genre should have a hard time not walking away with the feeling that it was great. Everything a fan of slasher films could want is here, atmosphere, boobs, gore, screaming, and some inventive and incredibly brutal ways of dispatching the not-so-innocent.

If I had any real complaints about this film, it would be the ending. The events of the climax seemed to bend reality a bit too much, and what happened afterwards made no sense from the point of view of the characters. From a writing/directing point of view the ending makes perfect sense (as the logical ending sort of makes sequels impossible), but I just don't think it is what the characters would have done.

All in all this is a film for fans of the slasher genre; it's not too different from its source material, but it's not a straight re-hash either. Filled with scares, nudity, and gore this movie should have your jumpy significant other clutching you close for safety. Check out the new “Friday the 13th” when it hits theaters everywhere this Friday the 13th.

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