The exhumation of old-school horror classics continues, courtesy of chief grave robber Marcus Nispel, who already gave Tobe Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre a glossy lick of paint, and now turns his attention to Sean S. Cunningham's Friday The 13th. Sadly, while Chain Saw '03 was a competent retread that didn't dishonour the grittier original, Friday '09 is a disappointing husk that fails to engender any reaction beyond escalating tedium.
Cards on the table, I've never been a huge fan of this sub-genre -- mainly because seeing raucous, horny teens get eviscerated by a masked man-child is a primal, raw, shocking notion that you quickly become desensitized to on-screen. Friday The 13th alone has 9 sequels, so it's difficult to watch any of these movies without noticing the formula that underpins them, the reheated ideas that inform them, and the clichés they clutch to like limpets. Whatever brief moments of psychological terror they stir up is often flushed away for the sake of a grizzly set-piece. Truth is, it's the UK where this genre has found evolution in the '00s, through the likes of Neil Marshall's The Descent and Eden Lake; two movies that, while clearly inspired by their American forbearers, found new avenues to explore and provided social commentary in a fresher way.
You know the plot already, or can at least predict its moves: Jason Vorhees (Caleb Guss) is a retarded/disfigured kid living with his mom at Camp Crystal Lake who, during a 1980-set prologue that spoils the original film's twist, watches his cosseting psycho parent (Nana Visitor) get decapitated by a teenage girl who dared bully her little boy. 30 years later, the adult Jason (Derek Mears) now stalks the abandoned holiday resort, slaughtering teenagers as his crackpot mother commanded before she died, delivered a steady stream of boisterous louts and buxom lovelies to penetrate with his signature machete.
The opening 20-minutes are a dim highlight, with a group of teenage friends arriving at the lake for a night of drinking, drugs and sex, as one shares the urban myth of mummy's boy Jason to creep the others out. The resulting attack from their invoked boogieman gives these sequences a nightmarish edge, helped by a few memorable kills (particularly a girl being strung up inside a sleeping bag, dangled over a campfire.) It has a pace, attitude and psychological bedrock that the rest of the movie never gets close to besting. Following this sequence, a fresh batch of two-dimensional meat-bags arrive for a weekend of hedonism, along with loner Clay (Jared Padalecki*), a young man trying to find his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti) from the preceding massacre.
Friday The 13th says and does everything it needs to in the first half-hour, then slowly begins to outstay its welcome. A few decent kills (particular a sequence with an out-of-control speedboat on a lake) resuscitate your interest, but there are no characters you particularly want to live. Thus, we turn to Jason to be our protagonist and send these Abercrombie & Fitch models to early graves, but that a jump of loyalty I can't personally make. It can be fun to support the villain in slasher films, but Jason's too dull to be worth the effort. He was far more effective in Freddy Vs. Jason, a surprisingly robust movie also written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, that showed more imagination and subtext than anything here. It's puzzling to me how these writers mined sympathy for brutish Jason Vorhees when he went toe-to-toe with child-killer Freddy Krueger (especially through his fear of water and childhood harassment), but then forget all that for his solo reboot. Jason appears to have conquered his aqua-phobia, for instance, just when the film sorely needed an Achilles Heel to toy with.
directed by: Marcus Nispel written by: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift starring: Danielle Panabaker (Jenna), Julianna Guill (Bree), Aaron Yoo (Chewie), Willa Ford (Chelsea), Ryan Hansen (Nolan), Arlen Escarpeta (Lawrence), Jared Padalecki (Clay Miller), Caleb Guss (Young Jason), Nana Visitor (Mrs. Vorhees), Jonathan Sadowski (Wade), Ben Feldman (Richie), Nick Mennell (Mike), Amanda Righetti (Whitney Miller), America Olivio (Amanda) & Derek Mears (Jason Vorhees) / New Line America/Paramount Pictures / 97 mins. / $19 million (budget) / www.fridaythe13thmovie.com
* The actor following his Supernatural co-star Jensen Ackles into slasher film remake territory. Indeed, starring in a slasher film has become the natural career path for anyone involved with horror-tinged TV series, ever since Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar starred in I Know What You Did Last Summer.