WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.
Plot Summary: A re-imagining of the horror icon Freddy Krueger, a serial-killer who wields a glove with four blades embedded in the fingers and kills people in their dreams, resulting in their real death in reality.
Another month, another horror remake. This time it’s Wes Craven’s turn as his 1984 slasher film, A Nightmare on Elm Street (NOES for short), gets the remake treatment by director Samuel Bayer and Michael Bay’s infamous production company, Platinum Dunes. I have to admit, I’ve never been a massive fan of the NOES franchise. The idea, that a serial killer could appear and kill you in your dreams, is a unique and frightening one but the series’ comedic tone always put me off. Bayer addresses this problem in the 2010 version of NOES, but completely fails in almost every of other aspect of horror film-making. NOES is a boring, over long mess of a film which seems to favour unnecessary gore and swearing over suspense or character development.
NOES’s biggest sin is by far lack of character development. After the initial kill sequence at the beginning of the film we’re introduced to a number of teenage characters during a in such quick succession that it’s almost as if we’re meant to have known them our entire lives. After this scene the film doesn’t properly slow down to flesh out these characters as real people with three-dimensional personalities and a consequence we don’t care whether they live or die. Instead, they’re reduced to stereotypes; the aggressive jock, preppy cheerleader, the arty loser etc. Horror films need to make a connection between the audience and the potential victims on screen because otherwise we can’t see ourselves in their shoes and in turn, feel fearful for them.
This issue is not helped in the slightest by the fact that the script and acting is terrible throughout, sometimes laughably so. The dialogue uttered by the teenagers sounds as if it were written by someone who no longer has any grasp of what it was like being a teenager and instead is content to turn to clichés and an abundance of swearing for inspiration. In one of the more hilarious pieces of dialogue Nancy explains to Quentin why she never went out with him, “I was always so unpopular and you were, you know...” The acting is similarly melodramatic and unconvincing. This is especially true in the case of Kris’s mother, Nora, who’s delivery of lines such as, “It’s ok honey, it’s over” during a funeral is so unenthused you can almost see her reaching for the cheque.
The pacing of NOES is also less than impressive as there are several plot points that go on for far too long and that don’t go anywhere of any consequence. From the beginning of the film you’re meant to believe that Kris is the main character, only for her to be killed off at about forty minutes into the film. Bayer is clearly trying to pull a Psycho on his audience here but it falls flat as Kris is so boring we don’t care what becomes of her. It’s a shameful waste of twenty minutes running time which could have been spent on some much needed character development. Later on there are a couple of scenes in which the two remaining leads decide that they made Freddy’s crimes up, and that they have inadvertently killed an innocent man. Fifteen minutes later they find the scene of Freddy’s crimes and swiftly change their minds. It’s a pointless twist in the story that does nothing but make the film unnecessarily long.
In fact, the best way to utilise this wasted time would have to actually build up a semblance of atmosphere or suspense. NOES runs at such a fast pace (in part due to the ‘micro-naps’ idea) that it doesn’t have time to set up a sense of unease or tension. This results in the film’s ‘horror’ consisting of two things. Firstly jump scares which, yes, do what they say on the tin but don’t provide any lasting impact and get old extremely quickly. Secondly, an over-use of gratuitous violent special effects. Don’t get me wrong, I love gore as much as the next twenty two year-old male, but it has to be built up to in order to be satisfying or even taken remotely seriously. In NOES you can tell this splatter hungry effects are being used as a shortcut to shock rather than horrify.
There is a glimmer of hope, however, in the portrayal of Freddy. Purists may scoff at the idea of anyone other than Robert Englund playing Krueger but the fact is that Jackie Earle Haley makes for an inspired and menacing replacement. We’ve already seen Haley play deranged lunatics before in the likes of Shutter Island and Watchmen but with Krueger he becomes a truly malevolent force to be reckoned with. His voice is just the right side of Christian Bale’s Batman growl and the way he twitches his knife fingers is truly creepy.
The best part of Haley’s Freddy is that, as previously mentioned, he’s not played for laughs. Sure, he gets plenty of one liners but (for the most part) they’re not overtly comedic as to underplay the horrific tone of the film. Nevertheless there is one fairly troubling trait the screenwriters have brought to their new version of the character, and that’s the handling of his paedophilic tendencies. I’m not against the idea that Freddy was a paedophile instead of a child killer (personally I’d always read that into the character anyway) but it’s his quips towards the end of the film that I take particular issue with. Lines such as, “How's this for a wet dream?” and, “Your mouth says no but your body say yes” boarder on the distasteful.
Some of the nightmare sequences are also well presented and fittingly surreal. The editing between worlds, snowing bedrooms and hallways full of tar all look the part and recall what made the original so brilliantly twisted. That said other scenes, such as when Freddy is coming out of wall or a classroom turning to ash, have been created with some frankly appalling CGI which looks embarrassingly bad. NOES is also a well shot film. Whilst it may not break from the stylistic rule book the film-makers have gone for a grimy, downtrodden look which complements the subject well. In the end though, neither Haley nor a handful of well executed scenes can save NOES from being exactly what it is; a truly sad excuse for a horror film.
Final Verdict: 2/10