A group of young adults visit a boarded up campsite named Crystal Lake where they soon encounter the mysterious Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions.A group of young adults visit a boarded up campsite named Crystal Lake where they soon encounter the mysterious Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions.A group of young adults visit a boarded up campsite named Crystal Lake where they soon encounter the mysterious Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions.
The hockey mask.
That ominous theme that sounds a lot like "Kill, Kill, Kill."
Anyone with any knowledge of the horror genre has undoubtedly come across this villainous icon who practically sprayed theatres with blood throughout the 1980s. Although he pretty much became a parody of himself in Jason X and then was basically (and wrongly) turned into a psychologically tormented Frankenstein's Monster-style creature in Freddy vs. Jason, the beast was always remembered for who he originally was.
And that is what makes the new remake/reimagining of Friday the 13th such a success (for the most part). Despite being written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the same guys who brutalized Freddy vs. Jason, they wisely went back to the basics that made the character so popular. Sure, he runs now, but he is a hulking beast again. There is a bit of added development in the relationship Jason has with his mother, but the story remains the same. He is still taking revenge on sex-crazed teenagers stupid enough to want to camp on Crystal Lake.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and to an extent, The Hills Have Eyes, all went down the route of making their deranged killers need to have parental issues in order to establish their motives as adults. For some reason, there seemed to need to be a reason for these killers to be the way they are. They simply could not exist as being demented and totally sick-in-the-head. Friday the 13th does not bother with any of that. Sure, there is a plot twist that will make any devotee or fan squirm with repulsion, but it still makes sense in the grand scheme of who Jason was and is now. The character has no added dimension completely taking away from how terrifying he is, and making him into a misunderstood infant. For that alone, the movie is more than worth the price of admission.
Another wise choice is sticking to the formula. The filmmakers here (including director Marcus Nispel of Texas Chainsaw remake fame) have made what is basically an homage to the series. Instead of trying to completely redo and rebrand the character for a 2009 audience, the film amalgamates everything everyone loved about the series that made them come back for ten sequels. Remember the gratuitous amount of breasts and graphic sex scenes? They are here, and just as graphic as ever. Remember the goofy dialogue, and total lack of any knowledge shown by the characters in trying to combat themselves against this machete-wielding maniac? Its back too. And remember all those ridiculously violent kills?
Well, they are back too.
The film knows its genre, and it knows its audience. It throws plenty of cheap scares at a moment's notice, and offers just enough laughs (both intentional and unintentional) to keep the audience invested in the movie. And when the actual scares come, the film manages to keep the audience transfixed at those moments too (whether they are screaming in fear or laughing from how ridiculous the scene is). Rather tastefully, the deaths are gruesome, but not to the point of overkill like in the Saw series or even within The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, there are some points where it may be hard not to wince, but it never seems like the filmmakers want to push the audience to the limit. They ground themselves in reality (for as real a situation as this story seems), and very rarely do they cross that barrier. They know which buttons they want to push, and which they want to stay well away from. And instead of exploiting the genre, they embrace it and somehow do not make things too disgusting for themselves. None of them may look innovative, but they work for the type of movie it is trying to be.
But for all the praising, the film is obviously imperfect. Leaving aside the ridiculous twist in the middle of the film and the total lack of character development (albeit, totally expected, but upsetting nonetheless), the film drags its heels getting to the finale. There is a very dry spot as the film nears its third act that borders on boring, and seems more like a forced narrative device to stretch the running time out. I have more than enough faith to see that they clearly could have added more running and screaming to some scenes, and still could have gotten a better effect. Some scenes seem marred by trying to be tense and failing as well. But of course, it is pretty hard for a scene to be tense when you are cheering for the killer as opposed to the victim.
The film also suffers from the slapdash editing that plagues modern horror and action films. In some instances, it is almost impossible to be scared because we barely see what is going on in the scene. It merely shows Jason show up, the person make their movie, and then a quick cut of what Jason does. Some scenes linger on the aftermath, but some happen and disappear quicker than you anyone would think. The fact that the film is not incredibly gory only makes it seem all the sillier to be so horrendously edited in some areas.
Some of the actors could have tried a little harder too, but that is just a nitpicking gripe.
In the end, Friday the 13th is a whole lot of fun. I did not think I would enjoy it at all, but I ended up being surprised at how reverent the film was to the series. Granted you know what to expect from a film featuring Jason Voorhees as the main character, than you should not go home disappointed.
And coming from a remake, that is saying quite a lot.
(An edited version of this review also appeared on http://www.geekspeakmagazine.com).
- Feb 13, 2009