When I see the name Platinum Dunes attached to a horror remake, I hang my head in a wholly disheartened state. While I did enjoy their remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on its own merits, everything after that has been stuck in the mud sinking further and further into uninspired junk. I’ve given them fair chances, but they have failed in such colossal ways. The final nail in the coffin was this remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street. A cluttered, drab, plodding mess is what this film turned out to be, and even not comparing it to Wes Craven’s original classic, it’s still a poorly executed film.
Five teenage friends living on one street all dream of a sinister man with a disfigured face, a frightening voice and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. One by one, he terrorizes them within their dreams – where the rules are his and the only way out is to wake up. But when one among them dies, they soon realize that what happens in their dreams happens for real and the only way to stay alive is to stay awake. Buried in their past is a secret that has just begun to be revealed. To save themselves, they must plunge into the mind of the most twisted nightmare of all: Freddy Krueger
Okay, remaking A Nightmare On Elm Street is not an outright terrible idea. There are certainly ways to expand upon the original idea, enhance the effects, and execute it with a new, yet still effective style. Surely, a sequel could just as easily do the same, but for whatever reason, despite the massive success that was Freddy vs. Jason and the fact that Robert Englund could easily reprise his iconic role, New Line Cinema chose to just remake the original. However, no one involved in this film did anything to make this a film worth making. I think it’s easier for a franchise to recover from a bad sequel than a bad remake. With a bad sequel, you still have better moments in continuity and filmmaking efforts to build upon, and if the sequel is bad enough, like Highlander II bad, you can disassociate it from continuity. A bad remake stops progress dead in its tracks because the beginning of this new continuity is not well received, fans don’t like the direction the property was rebooted into, and the general fan base doesn’t want to see more of it. There’s next to nowhere to go, and that’s why you rarely see sequels to remakes.
Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent actor, and I have very much enjoyed him in a couple of roles. There was a potential for him to deliver something impressive and unique here. There are a few things he does that were new and original in terms of mannerisms. However, by no fault of his own, neither the script nor director gave him anything worthwhile to sink his talent into. Krueger is poorly developed as the filmmakers try to take him in a different direction, but the entire premise backfires in such a sloppy, brain dead way. Trying to suggest that Krueger was wrongfully accused and unjustly murdered could work under more talented screenwriters and filmmakers, but it’s just handled stupidly and with no forethought. However, the biggest issue, for me, was that Haley was too recognizable even under that very good make-up job. When I saw this theatrically, I had just seen Haley regularly on the Fox television series Human Target, and so, his face was very familiar to me. Even the voice he uses is essentially that of Rorschach from Watchmen with a slur. It feels like a half thought out package, at best, which is an accurate blanket statement for this entire movie.
A problem arises with the performances by its young leads. This film does quite a good job accurately portraying sleep deprivation with people being frayed, exhausted, drowsy, and essentially very drained of energy. Unfortunately, that also creates a set of performances that are drab, lifeless, and generally disinteresting. The thing is, in none of the previous Elm Street movies did I ever have a problem with the actors actually putting energy into their performances when they were meant to be sleep deprived. For one, the make-up department did their jobs in weathering the young actors to look the part, much the same is done here, but secondly, energy and conviction are exactly what are needed to make these performances not just good but engaging.
Honestly, I don’t even think the lackluster acting is the fault of the cast. There are some very strong talents here such as Rooney Mara as the film’s lead Nancy Holbrook and Thomas Dekker, who I know well from the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series. I think the blame is entirely in the hands of director Samuel Bayer. My point of proof here is Clancy Brown. Let’s put The Kurgan aside. Go watch Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, and you will see a charismatic, lively, and excellent performance by Brown in a very grounded role. The main difference is that’s Kathryn Bigelow, an Academy Award winning director who has done increasingly incredible work over the years. Samuel Bayer is making his feature film directorial debut here after almost two decades of directing nothing but music videos. This movie does look fantastic, but beyond the great visuals, there is nothing here that impresses at all. That’s what I keep seeing from all of these Platinum Dunes directors – movies that have excellent visuals and polished cinematography, but are very hollow, uninspired, and unimaginative. Music video directors know how to make a good looking product, but have next to no experience working with actors to craft anything more than superficial performances. Surely, sometimes you get a Russell Mulcahy or David Fincher, but there are far more directors like Samuel Bayer and Jonathan Liebesman that come around who just have little to no talent working with actors and drawing out a strong performance from them. They are good visual storytellers, to a degree, but lack the multi-facetted skills required to be a full-fledged filmmaker.
I think the biggest shortfall of this film is the lack of genuine suspense and tension. I was only afraid of another jump scare coming out of nowhere, and frankly, it kept me too on guard. I kept bracing myself for another cheap scare. This film just throws jump scare after jump scare after jump scare at you. It takes no talent or skill to have someone jump out of the shadows with a loud musical stinger behind it. It’s cheap and worthless. And some of the gags are so blatantly setup that I called them before they even happened. The result of all this is the fact that Freddy doesn’t feel built up enough. He’s not a looming figure screwing around with you making you squirm. He’s the boogeyman jumping out at the shadows every chance he gets like a kid on Halloween, and that’s simply a hollow, go-nowhere idea that shows the difference between a blunt, shallow filmmaker and someone like Wes Craven or James Wan who knows how to build up atmosphere, tension, suspense, and manipulate the nuanced aspects of a film to truly scare you.
Aside from the respectable, moody cinematography, I will give credit to the film in that the tone is kept serious. There is no camp humor or jokey qualities to it. The filmmakers try to keep it very solid, focused, and dramatic. Sadly, the skill of the filmmakers is too thin to hold the weight that the film should have. The entire film does feel like a product designed to grab dollars and be forgotten. There is no artistic passion behind any of it, and the quality of the story suffers for it.
As I said in a previous Elm Street movie review, I do applaud that the various filmmakers always tried to introduce new, fresh ideas into the franchise, and never just laid back on carbon copy sequels. The downside is that the new ideas haven’t always worked, and the entire plot of misdirection regarding Krueger’s possible wrongfully accused back story is poorly handled. The way Krueger acts throughout the picture doesn’t lend credence to a man who was dealt a grave injustice, but an evil, sadistic man who enjoys torturing and slaughtering people. All the while, our lead characters are running around trying to unravel a mystery that ends up being a red herring, and thus, it was all just a giant waste of the audience’s time and attention. The idea is not executed well to misdirect an audience, and there is ultimately no pay-off for it, regardless. Not to mention, it’s an extreme plot contrivance that every single one of these kids blocked out the memory of Fred Krueger and their time at that school. So, it was a potentially interesting idea, but with how short-sighted every idea is in this film, it had no hope of actually developing into anything close to its potential. That is another easy, blanket statement to apply to everything in this film.
The visual effects of this remake are really not very good. For one, there’s no excuse whatsoever for CGI blood in an A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. NONE! It looks cheap and unconvincing. There are a number of effects here that are passable, but the bad stuff really just jumps out at you. Also, this movie proves that a simple practical effect and some artistic vision trumps digital effects. The scene of Krueger pushing through the wall, which was achieved in the original with Robert Englund literally pushing himself against a latex wall above Heather Langenkamp, looks like flat, uninspired garbage in this film as a digital effect that seems like a leftover from The Frighteners. And on a similar level is Platinum Dunes’ regular composer Steve Jablonski’s score. Where Charles Bernstein’s score for the original was fresh and inspired with a perfect nursery rhyme style theme, Jablonski’s score is forgettable and entirely typical. The original Elm Street theme appears only once, and that is when the film’s title card slams onto the screen. It’s never heard again, and once again shows how little reverence these filmmakers had for the property they were dealing with.
And while the supporting cast is decently well acted, no one stands out. No one really takes the stage and defines themselves apart from anyone else. I do think it was a poor decision to not have a John Saxon style character here. A mature adult character with compassion and a level head who could carry substantial weight with him. Yes, there are actors here with that capability, but the writing and directing take no advantage of the talents that it does have to make these characters anything but mediocre, drab, and shallow. The whole film does feel like it’s playing it a little too safe, including the acting. If they pushed the boundaries further, maybe it would be more engaging and potentially scary. Craven’s original film did things that were original, new, and innovative. This remake just comes off as a tired, passionless piece of merchandise.
Quite frankly, there was no one trying on this film. They followed the script like a blueprint and just created a film as flat as the paper that script was printed on. One of Platinum Dunes’ big problems is that they keep getting music video directors who have no experience with a script, actors, or crafting scenes, only in creating a three minute long marketable image for a band. They really need to get a real director who knows how to create an engaging ninety minute story with dimensional characters and coherent plotting. Not to mention, a filmmaker who can actually make a suspenseful, scary horror film.