The stabbing hands are still in this movie, but they're just a lot more digital. If you can somehow distinguish between the morality of a kid getting stabbed by a practical effect and a kid being stabbed by a digital effect, more power to you. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Bayer
I don't even know what I want out of this franchise anymore. I've now seen too much stupid horror to make sense of the world. In my last Nightmare review, I kept talking about the dangers of making Freddy jokey. This one makes him really hardcore. So what am I supposed to think when I really don't like this movie. I have my reasons at least, but golly...I'm sick of being such a stick in the mud when it comes to this movie franchise.
The fundamental problem that the remake (reboot?) of A Nightmare on Elm Street has is that it is the most remakey movie you could possibly do. Similar to what happened with Friday the 13th, the remake was produced by Michael Bay. I've complained about Michael Bay before. I'm not the only snob in the world to complain about this guy getting his mitts all over a franchise. I'm not covering new ground. His over polished and over flashy look to a movie really ruins Freddy Krueger (as far as he can be ruined). There is something ridiculously garage bandy to the very nature of the Nightmare movies. Again, this is coming from someone who finds these movies to be burdensome, but there is this odd ray of sunshine knowing that a bunch of guys are having a fun time over creating the goriest effect that they possibly can using stuff they can get around the workshop. Maybe I've just been indoctrinated into the myth that creature effects guys are playful and competitive. Maybe it's just that I've seen some examples of characters in Wes Craven's New Nightmare that lets me think that lie to myself, but I'd like to think that there is a joyful obsession that comes with these grossout effects. I don't know why the idea of a computer doing the same thing sanitizes it, but it definitely seems like this is the most Hollywood production of the lot. I have to be honest with myself that somewhere earlier in the run of sequels, New Line Cinema took over and made them cash cows. Looking at those turnaround times for how quickly these movies were made was jawdropping, but it still seemed like someone was having fun on these movies. This movie just looks like a Michael Bay crapfest and I know there were just oodles of people counting dollar signs, needing this to be a success. Commercialism, right?
There is a bigger problem with the visual effects being digital. I don't know why it works this way, but the digital effects are somehow less scary. In both situations, there's an element of disbelief that comes with seeing these grossout moments. If you can train your brain (or untrain your brain), you can watch these movies and completely believe that what you are seeing is real. That belief is what makes a gross out scene work. The digital effect never really captures that. There's a scene in this one that, unfortunately (I'll get to that in a second), parallels one of the effects from the original film. The scene is Freddy coming out of the wall as Nancy sleeps. It's a very unsettling effect in the original film. It looks like the wall is birthing Freddy Krueger and that sentence alone should bother you to a certain degree. When the scene is digital, it looks very dated and digital. I don't want to harp on these effects because some digital effects are awesome. But digital effects easily date themselves very quickly. Practical effects lie in the talent of the designer. I know that practical effects can't do everything and I'm sure that the original effects creator wish that they could create a practical effect that had the mobility of the digital effect in the reboot. But it just looked bad. There are a few digital effects that hold up, like in Jurassic Park or for a good portion of Terminator 2, but these effects somehow fit the narrative within the realm of necessity. The idea of digitizing something that could be done with practical effects just feels cheap. I know, I'm preaching to the choir here, but it definitely impacts this movie in a way that I didn't know it was possible. This might be Exhibit A against the unnecessary use of digital effects.
What was odd is that the movie so wanted to be cooler than the other films while being reverent to the original that it just picked the worst things to recreate. One of the things that probably sounded cool in a planning meeting was the recreation of scares (I told you I'd get back to this!). Many of the really iconic moments from the original Nightmare on Elm Street are in this movie. The bloody body bag being invisibly dragged down the hallway, the thrashing on the ceiling, the bed of blood, the bathtub sequence: all of these moments are recreated for this film. But the one thing that makes a scary movie really scary is the sense of tension that comes from dramatic irony. When we know something is going to happen because we know more than the characters, but we don't know what? That creates suspense. It's the reason a scary movie or a comedy isn't as good the second time. We know what is going to happen. When Nancy gets into the tub, we know that the hand is going to come out of the water. We know it won't kill her because we've seen the other movie. This is the exact thing I was praising about It. In It, the scares were all changed from the novel and the previous version. It kept it fresh while retaining the fundamental beats. I'm glad that the movie got the storyline for the most part right, but the scares were very empty, especially for the target audience of this movie, the lax fans of the dead franchise. The other demographic for this movie were teens and they simply cast everyone from the CW and WB to fill in generic roles. I do love that Rooney Mara is in this movie. She actually makes a better Nancy than Heather Langenkamp, to whom I must apologize for constantly berating her performance. I swear, I have no beef with this person. But Rooney Mara is a tank and she does a pretty good job in this one too. Again, there wasn't a ton to work with and I'm embarrassed that they gave her the angsty artist character to play. There are far too many characters who are simply defined by angry art. There's got to be something better.
The thing that I'm most bummed about is the fact that I love Jackie Earle Haley. I love him so much. There was a time when he was in everything. He's such a cool character actor and when I heard that he was taking over from Robert Englund, I couldn't be more excited. I never thought that the Nightmare movies' problems stemmed from Englund. I think Englund made the character his own, and despite the fact that I never loved the character, I think that Englund made the character something special in his own right. Haley doesn't necessarily do anything wrong with the character, so much as there's nothing all that right with Freddy in his burnt form. Rather, Haley thrives in my favorite choice for the franchise, the revamped Freddy origin. This might be blasphemy, but I really like the changes that they made with Freddy's backstory. It seems real and dark. As much as the child of a hundred maniacs is cool, it also is very over the top. The story of a guy who might have been innocent turning into a serial killer is great. I was a little nervous (odd, because I saw this movie in theaters too) when they said he was innocent because it would be weird that Freddy became such a monster after the fact. But having that moral dilemma actually gives the movie a little guts (pun intended). There is that ethical crisis that I thought about. In the other movies, the parents are such stereotypes that there was no relating to any of them. But in this one, the parents (albeit very blah) seem like real people taking care of a guy who hurt their children. Fred, pre-burns, seems like a genuinely scary guy. I just finished the original series (sans Freddy vs. Jason) and Fred Krueger making a deal with dream gods is so ridiculously dumb that it was refreshing to see a parred down version of a famous story. I like that.
The movie is too clean overall and the scares are just lacking. I blame a lot of this on digital effects, but there are moments that really shine. I will say that I don't want a sequel and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies can just stop. I don't know if we're really clamoring for a shiny new sequel, but what can I say? People like them and who am I to stand in the way of that?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.