I like remakes. They give an insight into what makes a movie work. However the new Friday the 13th movie is also a good remake on moral grounds, because the original films were trash and it's hard to imagine even Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes outfit not managing to improve on them.
However would normal people think it's improved all the way into becoming a good movie? I don't know about that. Dramatically speaking, the film's problem is that it's one-note. It's lacking in dramatic shape, pushing the same buttons from the opening through to the end credits. There's no crescendo. You could put the end of the film at the beginning and it wouldn't greatly change the experience. Obviously the film switches off the horror when we're just hanging out with implausibly pretty teenagers and watching them do what teenagers have always done in Friday the 13th films, but when I say "switch off", that's exactly what they're doing. The script has two modes. The horror is either on (Jason) or off (teens having fun). They haven't built in a dimmer switch. That's the part of the film that I thought could have been done better, but a more fundamental problem is that we're still in the slasher genre. I don't think it really has themes or anything. It's the latest instalment in a franchise for which mindless tit and gore shots have traditionally been the upper end of its artistic ambition.
As a Friday the 13th film, though, it's by far the best one without Freddy Krueger in it. The only other one which comes close is Part 4
. It has outstanding cinematography, atmosphere, characterisation for Jason Vorhees and a cast that doesn't just feel like meat on the hoof. It's a proper film, in other words. They're taking it seriously. The improvement in professionalism, not to mention competence, is shocking. If this had been the original film and the old eighties films the remakes, then Sean S. Cunningham's lawn would now be adorned with burning crosses.
The biggest innovation here is Jason. He's a human with mental processes, rather than just a machete on legs. This is almost unprecedented, with the only exceptions being the wacky finales of Part 2
, Part 4
and the underrated Jason Takes Manhattan
. With this Jason, on the other hand, you can tell that he's being played by an actor, not a stuntman. Check out the scene where he puts on his hockey mask and looks at himself in the mirror. We see him react to situations. "Where's he going?" someone asks at one point. This is a Jason who can decide to do things! You probably think I'm overreacting to the most trivial thing in the world, but we're talking here about something that's traditionally been a moving shape on screen and nothing more. Backstory, yes, but no personality. For a while the writers were even going to go back to Jason's childhood, as with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Rob Zombie's Halloween remake
, but they eventually decided that that was a bad idea.
In fact this Jason's characterisation is so unprecedented that for some fans, it didn't feel like Jason. He's dug a network of underground tunnels. He's rigged up searchlights to catch anyone invading his territory. Most controversial is one thing which no Jason has ever done before, but even that's not too much of a stretch if you allow yourself to recreate his mental processes. You can see what's going through his retarded mind. The teddy bear and the dolls are a nice touch too. For a while I was puzzled about the presence of his house since he's clearly living in the tunnels instead, but I think it's simply that he lived there as a child and so it's still part of his world. He's abandoned it, but it's within his territory. It's not even beyond imagination that that's where he keeps his mother's head, although there we're getting dangerously close to plot hole territory.
In other words, he's a survivalist. He's a creepy guy who lives underground in the backwoods and likes weapons. I think this is a hoot and you could do a lot with this iconography. On top of that he also seems genuinely tough, as opposed to being merely indestructible.
One thing I really like is that they haven't overexplained it. We don't get scenes of little Jason being bullied or anything like that. If anything they've probably gone too far in the opposite direction, with his mother's locket being the kind of detail that some people won't catch on first viewing. The finale in particular comes a little out of nowhere. Why does that character say that? Um, mostly because they're following in the footsteps of Part 2
. However at least we've been spared the point-by-point explanations of why Jason thinks X is his mother because of Y and Z.
The rest of the cast are fine, although the men are so pretty that you can tell they've got their own TV show. The only exceptions to this are the two non-Caucasians. However they can all act to at least the level required of a Friday the 13th film and they've got lots of loose, fast-paced dialogue that's not trying to be too clever. I could have lived with slightly less dialogue about penises, masturbation, breasts and so on, but I was amused by the scene where one character is actually getting ready to have a wank and we're not even watching a Rob Zombie film or anything. The obligatory douchebag has a few points of interest, with one particularly despicable moment that makes him deserve death, while amusingly he screams like a girl. Oh, and the lead character is looking for his missing sister, just like that guy in Part 3
As important as the acting of course is the nudity. Producer Michael Bay walked out of the film's premiere, saying it had too much sex. The first pair we see are obviously plastic, but the topless waterboarding is a work of genius. The Titty Fairy has blessed this film. Make sure you're watching the extended DVD edition rather than the theatrical cut, obviously.
Then you've got the cinematography. It looks superb. It really takes you deep into the backwoods of redneck America, but more convincingly than we've seen before. It's a hostile, working class world that's not populated by comedians, but by people without much money or education who don't like you. I really like the feel of this movie, which is consciously turning its back on self-referential slasher films like Scream
or Jason X
and instead trying to get back to something grittier and more realistic. I think they've succeeded. They've conjured up some real atmosphere here. They've picked a good setting and made it look great. It even manages to be a film with Michael Bay's name attached that hasn't been edited to ribbons. Surprisingly though in interviews the filmmakers seemed to associate all these good qualities with the eighties (not the obvious choice), but they're probably just showing loyalty to their chosen franchise. Or alternatively, so much horror was made in that decade that I suppose you can pick out examples of almost any aesthetic if you search.
As a Friday the 13th film, it's basically a remake of Part 2
and Part 3
. Part 1
is technically here too, but only as a pre-pre-credits sequence. Mrs Vorhees doesn't even last two and a half minutes before getting decapitated. They've brought it approximately up to date, rather than doing it as a period piece unlike Platinum Dunes's remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror
, but the pre-pre-credits sequence is set in 1980 and the rest of the film is set twenty years later (i.e. ten years ago). Maybe they're giving themselves room to bring in Tommy Jarvis and then let him age without going too far into the future? Note that the original film was set in 1979 but came out in 1980. They've also included continuity touches like Jason wearing the bag on his head until halfway through when he switches to a hockey mask, while in his tunnels is the wheelchair of Wheelchair Guy in Part 2
. Oh, and 1980 is in black and white. Obviously.
It's made by Platinum Dunes stalwarts, incidentally. It's directed by the director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and written by the duo who wrote Freddy vs. Jason
Not all fanboys approved of this film, of course. If we're looking for reasons to dislike it by Friday the 13th standards, then it's less fun than some of its predecessors. It's got atmosphere and it's less cheesy. It doesn't have many laughs. Some people have called it overly serious. It's also taken liberties with Jason that might annoy a few fanboys. Apart from that... nope, sorry. I disagree with the criticism that all the kills are the same, which isn't true. It might seem that way because of that one-note feel I mentioned at the beginning, but it's also ironically down to the film so successfully evoking its specific mood and setting. Let's also not forget that some of these kills are really nasty, whereas a surprising number of the MPAA-defanged earlier entries are kinda lame. That probably disappointed people who want to regard the killings as comedy punchlines.
They've found a new way to draw attention to the cliche of the dead body falling down into shot, though. The corpse hits someone! Why?
Overall, I can understand the criticism that this is just another proficient but soulless slasher film. However I think there's a lot to admire here, including some surprisingly eccentric details like the weird subtext of Jason Vorhees: Marijuana Avenger and the whole survivalist aspect. This film has atmosphere, a cool setting and even suspense. Its finale of Jason going into the lake is also surprisingly iconic and the underwater shot even manages to look like a real lake rather than a water tank.
As a film in its own right, I have a lot of time for this. As a straight Friday the 13th film with no gimmicks, it's practically the only one worth a damn.