As much as I went to see this on the night, which makes me seem a lot more of a geek than I actually am and implies I was excited by the prospect of the film, so possibly oblivious to the fact that it was always going to be some kind of disappointment (and thus ultimately a little stupid), I am sorry to report that Friday the 13th managed to sink to even lower depths than I expected.
There are so many things that were horrendous about the film, that I almost don’t know where to start, but one thing is for sure, it certainly made me see the original in a much more rosy light.
So, Friday the 13th: the remake. Sure, it had a camp, a lake, teenagers and a deranged superhuman killer on the loose. But really, the ties to the original stop there.
In fact, by virtue of a re-cap of the events of the first film in the opening moments this is more like a remake of Friday the 13th part 2 (Steve Miner, 1981).
Clearly having Jason, and the increased gore that can come with that, meant more than fully re-booting the franchise.
Really this is the core of the problems with the film, an overdeveloped emphasis on violent death and the completely empty and cynical way in which this is handled.
Not content with subjecting one group of teenagers to Jason’s vengeance, the film manages to squeeze two lots in. Double the fun? Not so much.
After the opening catch-up session, which slightly muddies the narrative sense of the original concept (and that is possible, in relation to what they do), the film begins with a group of teens on a camping trip. Two of the boys are planning to find a fabled marijuana crop, a plot device which feels as crass and cynically ‘youth-orientated’ as the drugs mission in same producer/director’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
So, inevitably the kids stumble on Camp Crystal Lake, recount the legend of Jason to one another, do a considerable amount of being outrageously nosy (Oh look, what’s in that hole in the wall of this already overly creepy cabin? A mouldy, severed head? Goodness, how peculiar, let’s continue poking around…), and die horribly. Repeat.
The second lot, now located at someone’s parents’ swanky cabin on the other side of the lake, are joined by our hero, and an entirely new element to the film (how thrilling!) Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki – star of TV
series Supernatural). He is looking for his sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) who disappeared a month ago, and was in that first group of kids. I don’t think I really need to go into the details of the rest of it. Except to say that Jason, along with occupying the abandoned site of Camp Crystal Lake, has an underground (abandoned mine?) lair, with a system of tunnels, chambers and even a warning bell. Pretty snazzy huh? Makes narrative sense? Again, not so much (a camp, by a lake, on a mine? Surely some kind of health and safety nightmare).
On the plus side, Jason (Derek Mears) is quite a lot of fun in this incarnation. He runs, he leaps, he kills in a variety of imaginative ways (tying a girl into a sleeping bag and hanging it over a fire is pretty labour intensive). Unfortunately that’s pretty much it.
The only possible other plus, only applies if you enjoy Supernatural as much as I do, and thus appreciate Jared Padalecki’s unique ‘acting’, or find him ‘hot’ (which, for the record I don’t) – clearly a big part of the reasoning behind this casting.
Indeed, his casting, and the evident way in which he is very much the star, presents a potentially industrially and thematically interesting development of the modern slasher and the influence of TV, as his presence marks a shift away from emphasis on a ‘final girl’ figure and a cast of unknowns, and the ways in which many of the current crop of remakes are relying on (increasingly male) TV star power. Think My Bloody Valentine (Patrick Lussier, 2009), starring Jensen Ackles, also of Supernatural fame, and House of Wax (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005), Starring our old friend Jared alongside Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) and Elisha Cuthbert (24).
The main thrust of the film’s badness is to be found in the complete detestability of the teens.
I realise that a big part of the slasher genre is having numerous characters who are fodder for the killer’s violent rampage, and often they are not likeable or rounded characters. Yet, I can’t remember watching a film where I felt so dramatically distanced from the characters, or so encouraged to actively wish them horrible death. And as much as I do enjoy aspects of gore, the spectacle of death, tension in the vulnerable being stalked by the powerful, this led to an extremely empty watching experience.
The worst of this were the ways in which attempts to bring in crude American Pie-style (though this makes American Pie seem akin to the subtle and sophisticated black humour of something like Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude) drug/sex comedy.
Added to this are the ridiculous elaborations of plot and its sledgehammer signposting of THINGS THAT WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER. Don’t even get me started on the problematic representation of race.
Ok, so subtly is clearly not the film’s strong point. But hey, shouldn’t I just lighten up and enjoy it for all its silliness? In a word, no.
This made me nostalgic for the 80’s slasher in a way that doesn’t normally come to mind: the innocence of it all. Sure, there’s sex, drugs and violence, but compared to this it all seems in much better taste, more complex and, I almost can’t believe this, sensitively handled.
Additional film information: Friday the 13th (2009)