Directed by: Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
An acquaintance of mine posted on a message board something to the effect that while Marcus Nispel’s “reimagining” of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) isn’t any worse than the original, neither is it any better. While I don’t quite disagree, I do think the message demonstrates that Nispel’s film actually is worse. The new incarnation cost more than 20 times as much and took nearly twice as long to make. You might think that some improvement over a cheesy little slice-and-dice exploitation flick from nearly 30 years ago would have resulted. But no. Instead we simply get more of the same doled out in such a way that it somehow feels like less of the same.
Cunningham’s film (now being called a “classic,” presumably because everybody at least thinks they know the movie) isn’t very good and never was. Friday the 13th was simply a brilliantly cheeky, no-frills concept that really came into its own with Steve Miner’s 1981 sequel and its brazenly honest ad campaign, “The body count continues.” In other words, you get to see a lot of people murdered in various gruesome ways. Period. Look for nothing deeper. It’s a campfire story/cautionary tale (making out and smoking dope get you killed) of monumental artlessness, which is part of its ragged appeal. Nispel’s reboot—despite its slicker look—is just as artless, considerably dumber and, frankly, boring.
Oddly enough, the new film shows a few flashes of cleverness in its opening reel. Since audiences are now primed for the murderous antics of Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears, The Hills Have Eyes II), who doesn’t show up in the original movie, his backstory is dispensed with in about two minutes. OK, so it’s annoyingly edited and it sets up a bogus “origins of Jason” scenario that makes no more sense than the unexplained leap from the original film to Miner’s Friday the 13th Part II, but it does cover the bases of the first two movies with admirable economy. This is then followed by a moderately effective miniature version of a standard Friday the 13th picture with Jason in his more-or-less Part II incarnation, which is to say he has something like a flour sack on his head rather than his Friday the 13th Part III (1982) hockey mask. For Jasonologists (I know you’re out there, or this wouldn’t be the 12th entry in the franchise), this is probably not uninteresting. Unfortunately, the film “proper” soon takes over and it all goes to hell just like Jason supposedly did in his 1993 outing Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. (Yeah, the subtitle lied.)
As soon as the extended setup is over, the movie becomes just one more entry in the series—and frankly, a substandard one. It all revolves around Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki, TV’s Supernatural) coming to Crystal Lake in search of his lost sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti, Role Models). Locals tell him she’s dead. The cops tell him she probably ran off with her boyfriend. He knows better—and so do we, because the prologue sets her up as looking like Ma Voorhees (see Part II). He also runs afoul of a group of yuppie holidaymakers, headed up by obnoxious overaged frat boy Trent (Travis Van Winkle), who calls everybody “bro”—in itself sufficient reason to want to see him on the end of a machete. What follows is as predictable as knowing that the wood chipper that appears in reel three (just before Jason finds his mask) will show up again before the final fade-out.
The plotting is on the far side of imbecilic. In searching for the missing Whitney, the cops never checked out the old Voorhees place with its shrine to mom’s mummified head and trapdoor to Jason’s system of tunnels? (Is this boy a monster mole in between bouts of mayhem?) Who exactly pays for what must be Jason’s substantial electricity bill? Do the screenwriters realize that describing a houseful of very old furnishings as “like something from the last century” isn’t terribly suggestive of antiquity in 2009?
What we’re left with is the requisite series of relatively tame and hardly elaborate murders executed in a very by-the-numbers manner and adhering to the lowest genre standards: comic relief, disposable bimbos and ethnic sorts go first, the most obnoxious character goes next and the “admirable” characters are saved for last. (In this case, those last ones deserve what they get for transcending cosmic stupidity in the tag scene/sequel setup.) Yes, it’s slicker than the original, and the topless girls in this version appear to have been artificially augmented in the breast department. I guess that makes this state of the art in some peculiar way. Really, if you have to have a Jason fix, you’d be better off staying home with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) or Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material.