Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

There are few horror movie monsters out there more recognizable than Freddy Kruger; he stands shoulder to shoulder with other classic monsters from Dracula to Jason Voorhees, and like pretty much all of those classic characters it is time for him to get a reboot. It's time to bring Freddy into the age of iPods and cell phones with the reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.

First thing you need to know is that this is in fact a reboot, not a straight remake. While the movie does feature some of the original's more iconic scenes (the bathtub scene, Tina's death scene, the bodybag in the school hallway, the girls skipping rope, and of course the line “I'm your boyfriend now”) it does not feature the same characters aside from Freddy himself, and even his back story has undergone an overhaul.

Gone is Heather Langenkamp's cheery Nancy Thompson, she has been replaced by the darker Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara: “Youth in Revolt”). Nancy is an artist and a waitress at the Springwood Diner, where she witnesses one of her friends appear to kill himself after talking of a man trying to kill him in his dreams; a man she too has been dreaming about.

As more of her classmates die, Nancy and her would-be boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner: “Veronica Mars”), try to find out what connects them to the dead teens, uncover what their parents have been hiding from them, and try to stop Freddy before they become his next victims.

I have been a fan of the original Nightmare series since I was a kid, I even watched the TV version where Freddy generally only played a Cryptkeeper-esque role, so I was skeptical of anyone playing Freddy Kruger besides Robert Englund. Well let me say that I was worried for nothing, Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”) makes for a scarier Freddy than Englund ever did. Where Englund's Freddy was frequently, and intentionally, a little hard to take seriously, especially as the series went on, Haley's Freddy finds a nice mix between being hammy and being extremely creepy. Helping Haley in this is the fantastic makeup job. Haley can be a pretty creepy looking guy to begin with (there are scenes in this version of Freddy before his death), but the make-up makes him disturbing before he even opens his melted mangled mouth.

One of the things that really struck me while watching this movie was the sound,. See this in a theater with a good sound system, as this movie actually takes advantage of it. At various points in the film Freddy's voice seems to move through the theater, and ambient noises will sound like they are coming from above and behind you rather than sounding like they are coming from the screen itself. It's a little thing, but it really shows the effort that was put into making this the best movie they could.

Is this movie perfect? No, it has a number of little plotholes that are kind of annoying, like who posted Devon's final video on his vlog, but nothing too major. The only thing that really distracted me during the film was Quentin. Maybe it's just me, but Kyle Gallner, while doing a fine job of playing Quentin, is a bit on the homely side for a leading man. I was very surprised that he turned out to be one of the major characters in the film since he looks like a doughy poor man's Robert Pattinson, a resemblance my wife also commented on after the film's conclusion with no prompting from me. Am I being petty here? Yes, very.

The movie does rely a lot on jump-scares. Freddy frequently appears on screen as the camera turns accompanied by a loud noise in an attempt to make you jump out of your seat (and if you are the sort of person that works on, you will be doing a lot of jumping). A lazier filmmaker might be satisfied with this, but it is not the only card up Nightmare's sleeve; there is plenty of creepy atmosphere, effective use of music, and just the genuine scariness courtesy of Haley's performance to make even the most jaded Nightmare fan's heartbeat quicken.

All told, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” brings the basic story of Freddy Kruger into the 21st century much more faithfully than last years “Friday the 13th” reboot did for Jason. I enjoyed both movies, but if I were to recommend one of them it would most definitely be the new Nightmare. It's violent, bloody, decently written, and quite, quite scary. If you were a fan of the old series you owe it to yourself to give this version a chance.

Stock up on energy drinks, get a refill of your A.D.D. meds, steal some adrenaline from the nurse's cart, and grab your crucifix because Freddy's coming for you in theaters nationwide this weekend.

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