Not sequel, prequel or reboot, the new “Friday the 13th” sits as an odd entry on the list of 80’s horror remakes. Considering that list has ranged from the disastrous (“Halloween”) to the god awful (“The Hitcher,” “The Fog”), it’s not hard to put this decidedly bland and uninspired fare near the top of a disappointingly anemic list.
The ‘Friday’ series was always the workhorse of the slasher genre, a franchise more respected than loved. ‘Halloween’ had the creepier suburban setting and stronger pedigree, ‘Elm Street’ had the great concept and killer with personality, even ‘Hellraiser’ was effectively gorier and more twisted. Where ‘Friday’ excelled however was in its consistency, right from the get go it was unafraid to admit that due to its budget and story limitations – its only drawcard was the killing of nubile teenagers in increasingly creative and often hilarious ways. Jason had no discrimination – white, black, geek, jock, fat, crippled, etc. all fell under his machete in ways that made you cheer for the bad guy.
The new version however forgets that old school charm and whimsical creativity, opting instead for an over-stylized and dead serious affair which portrays Jason more like a ferocious pot farmer with special forces training than an obsessive-compulsive killing machine from beyond. He’s stealthy and then attacks quickly with a loud burst of musical score behind him, unlike the old Jason who was more a relentless force of nature with his ceaseless walk and a MacGuyver-like ability to kill with whatever is laying around.
One of the big problems is that the film starts with its best foot forward. After a one-minute setup which basically recounts the end of the original 1980 classic and sets it as canon, the next twenty minutes essentially play out like a miniature ‘Friday’ film in itself. There’s a good sense of bawdy humor and playfulness between a group of five teens hunting a pot stash who come upon Jason’s backyard. The deaths are creative, intense and surprising that its quick cut to title card does give one hope.
Unfortunately its downhill from there with the next hour-plus serving as essentially a longer and far less interesting version of the first story, or rather a version compressing events from the first three sequels. This time the characters are notably more annoying whether it be Aaron Yoo’s already gratingly old token Asian stoner routine, various interchangable female models only there to flash their artificial breasts to camera, or Travis Van Winkle’s dickhead jock. The later goes so out of his way to be a prick that you quickly go beyond that feeling of wanting to see this guy get his just desserts to just switching him off entirely (his girly scream is the film’s only true laugh). Oh and Dick Casablancas from “Veronica Mars” is in there for all of two lines of dialogue.
Not surprisingly it’s the more seasoned leads that garner the most interest, in this case TV regulars Danielle Panabaker (“Shark”) and Jared Padalecki (“Supernatural”) as easily the hottest stars ever to grace this franchise who are also given the film’s only real sympathetic characters (and both remain criminally fully-clothed throughout). Both are young thesps who’ve demonstrated a good potential to break out into movies in their earlier work and they more than anything else make this a salvagable film.
Marcus Nispel, the man behind “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, returns to the director’s chair and thankfully tones down his overly ambitious camera work and hyper editing. True the production still suffers from some notably bad choppiness at points but this is one of the few films with Michael Bay’s name attached that doesn’t feel like its gang-raped your senses into submission by the end. Considering the limitations of the location, the cinematography proves surprisingly impressive at certain points. in fact this is one of those cases where good production values may prove more hindrance than help.
Like much of the horror product out these days, it’s soulless. The humor is non-existent, the gore is ickier (lots more close-ups of machetes cutting through tendons), the frights are more jump shocks than actual atmospheric chills, and there’s a lot of unexplained and downright odd elements such as Jason’s inexplicable underground labyrinth.
Still, some moments are just so out of left-field that it’s hard not to like them. There’s a hick mechanic who loves licking Playboy magazine pages, or a great session of topless wakeboarding with one of the film’s few inventive kills. Nispel is also thankfully not a sadist like most of the torture porn of late – while there is gore, it’s thankfully not lingered on and so it automatically makes this a better film than all the “Saw” sequels combined. To be fair it’s the best ‘Jason’ film since the seventh with its imaginative telekinetic “X-Men” style superpower battles.
Horror viewers aren’t a particularly discriminating bunch considering the kinds of efforts that bring in the dough as of late. For those wanting predictable formula with some tits and violence, this does suit the bill fine but doesn’t go beyond that. Unlike Rob Zombie’s horrendous “Halloween” remake which essentially spat on John Carpenter’s original, this one doesn’t have to aim as high and doesn’t sink so low in its execution. Considering Platinum Dunes’ track record, this is arguably their best work yet.
Above all else however this ‘Friday’ is simply a pointless exercise beyond paying off Michael Bay’s seventh mortgage. As much as I loath it, at least Zombie’s “Halloween” tried to go beyond carbon copying that franchise’s endless sequels and take it into unfamiliar territory. This however is just forgettable, a dull safe bet that will quickly be forgotten and likely ignored in the years to come while the more amateur yet entertaining entries in the series (ie. Parts 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7) will get a lot more rewatch value.