Reviewed by Heather Wixson
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Thomas Dekker, Connie Britton, Clancy Brown, Katie Cassidy, Kellan Lutz
Directed by Samuel Bayer
I can vividly remember the first time I saw Freddy Krueger on the big screen. It was 1987, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was playing during the summer at a local drive-in as a double feature with Predator. Once I had seen the Freddy Worm sequence, I knew I was a Freddy Girl for life and there was no going back.
When I originally heard that Platinum Dunes was remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street (true story: if you Google me, one of the top links is a comment I made on EW.com about the project a few years back), I was livid. However, being in the line of work that I am, remakes are now a commonality, and as I’ve come to realize through numerous discussions with genre filmmakers of every level, there are no sacred cows left when it comes to our boogeymen.
Freddy Krueger was getting a makeover, and that was the end of it.
Going into A Nightmare on Elm Street, what I consciously decided to do was keep an open mind and avoid the urge to compare it to the original. What I decided when the film was finished was that, for the most part, Platinum Dunes succeeded in delivering one hell of a chilling spin on the lore of Freddy Krueger and the doomed teenagers of Elm Street.
In terms of plot A Nightmare on Elm Street goes back to square one. We’re introduced to a group of teenagers who all inexplicably begin to have nightmares about the same man. Once one of the teenagers commits suicide while asleep, the others come together to find out what evil lurks in their missing childhood memories and how that relates to the increasingly disturbing man who terrorizes their dreams.
In this new film first-time feature director Samuel Bayer isn’t looking to recreate the look that Wes Craven established with his 1984 modern horror classic. Instead, Bayer, who is known as the visionary director who may have single-handedly revolutionized MTV in the early 90s with his video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” plays to his strengths as a visual director to make this terrifying new trip down Elm Street something that translates well to today’s audiences.
What I also enjoyed about this new Nightmare is that we finally get some character development that doesn’t seem forced like you see in countless other horror films these days. The core group of teenagers taking on Freddy this time (Mara, Gallner, Dekker, Cassidy, Lutz) are all likable, realistic characters that you actually want to root for. There’s no jock, no stoner kid, no dumb cheerleader. These kids are just seriously screwed up and looking to survive. In supporting roles both veteran actor Brown and one of my personal favorites, Britton, deliver great performances as parents, who for a change aren’t the generic hapless adult-types we so frequently see. These are parents who desperately want nothing but to protect their children from evil.
Now, it’s time to talk Freddy. In this Nightmare Freddy is cruel and dark. Perhaps darker than we’ve really seen before. In the original series Freddy’s crimes against the children while still alive all played off-screen. Here, script writers Eric Heisserer and Wesley Strick avoid the easy route and explore the pedophile aspect of Krueger by giving us some back-story without going to far. It was a bold decision for Platinum Dunes and Bayer to agree to go this route, and while it is touchy subject matter, it never feels exploitative.
Haley, who has become the master of playing dark characters, takes his Freddy to some wicked and terrible places as he chases down his victims. While he doesn’t have that certain charisma that only comes from being Robert Englund himself, Haley does give the character a cold viciousness that has been lacking in the franchise since 1994’s New Nightmare. Haley’s Freddy is pissed and disturbed and doesn’t have time for one-liners or sight gags. He’s just here for revenge. And it was nice to see Freddy finally have a little menace back behind the glove.
Even though I enjoyed A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are things I’m still not completely on board with. First is the makeup. It’s been a problem for me since I did my set visit last June. I can appreciate the decision to give Freddy a more realistic look, but I think that since Freddy is this evil entity in the dream world (and not reality), his makeup should have reflected that. That could just be my inner geek talking, but usually my inner geek is right. My other issue is that the big showdown between Nancy and Freddy in the final act is missing a little something. The film’s ultimate conclusion more than makes up for it, but I would have liked to go a little further in finding out just why Nancy is Freddy’s “favorite” out of all of his victims.
Also, surprisingly enough, the two scenes that slowed the film down for me are those taken straight from Craven’s original — the tub scene and Freddy pushing through the wall. I liked a lot of what Bayer did with his Nightmare, especially something referred to as the “Blood Bog” by the cast and crew and the opening scene, which gives the film a brutal jolt. But the film would have been stronger had it kept in the subtle homages to the original and avoided recreating those classic scenes. With such a vast creative playground, like the dream world, this would have been a good opportunity for Platinum Dunes and Bayer to really add their trademarks to the project.
The other thing I wasn’t happy with is that the film relies too much on digital technology to do its storytelling. While I do know that these days it’s hard to avoid digital effects, I just wish the technology was enough to keep the effects from still looking cheesy.
With all that being said on both sides of the playing field, the solid performances, stunning cinematography and visuals, and revamped and brutal Freddy make this A Nightmare on Elm Street worth checking out. While the film isn’t completely perfect, it is clear that Platinum Dunes learned how to improve its formula since last year’s Friday the 13th remake. And even though this Nightmare wasn’t nearly the memorable event for me that Dream Warriors was some 20-something years ago (how can you compete with nostalgia?), this is a good start to a new era of Freddy Krueger, and I’d definitely be interested to see where this new franchise goes in the future.
3 1/2 out of 5
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