A Nightmare on Elm Street
There's a scene (more like a specific shot, actually) in Platinum Dune's remake of the 80s horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street that succinctly sums up why this new version is such a piece of soulless, throwaway trash. When teenage heroine Nancy (a charming Heather Langenkamp in the original, now replaced by a dead-eyed Rooney Mara in the remake) is briefly terrorized by the shape of movie monster Freddy Krueger pushing through the wall above her bed, the modernized imagery, once a very special effect in the original movie, is now updated to be decidedly dull.
Back in the 1984 franchise-launching original, the effect was achieved using a piece of stretchable spandex placed over a hole in the bedroom wall. But now in this lame 2010 remake, the effect has been reenacted using shoddy CGI. What was once a tangible and eerily organic moment of nightmarish beauty has now been reduced to a cheap, cartoonish digital effect that would be no less unnerving if it were a Care Bear inhabiting the wall.
Of course, this is only one shot and that does not a disaster make. However, it does illustrate the sort of problems that plague this production from start to finish. Screenwriter Wesley Strick and director Samuel Bayer (ready to receive your razzie yet, Sam?) have adapted Wes Craven's crafty, imaginative piece of horror fiction by routinely ripping off the original and consistently failing to find the frights in the narrative. How do you stick so close to the source material and yet manage to drain all of the manic midnight thrills from the story?
Wes Craven's original movie is perfect slumber party fare, a disturbing and delicious dream complete with an engaging lead performance and many fantastic visual tricks. On the other side of the Nightmare spectrum, Bayer's remake is a muddy mess that wouldn't be scary if you watched it while sitting in Freddy's lap. Everything feels stolen from the original and then mashed into a blender designed to re-imagine once-great moments through sickly, yellowy lighting and quick, flashy frights. The result is a visual catastrophe punctuated by many brief 'boo' moments all executed with zero imagination.
So the scares are pedestrian and the colour palette is rather vomitous. Bayer, Strick, and cinematographer Jeff Cutter have already managed to botch two very important elements that remain among the greatest strengths of Craven's original. When you toss in the casting of Rooney Mara as protagonist Nancy, this remake completes a trifecta of disappointment, fully eliminating any possibility of paying a respectful tribute to its predecessor.
Mara may well go on to something special in the future (she's already been cast as feisty, complicated genius Lisbeth Salander in the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but her performance in this particular remake is so vacant and vacuous that I'm pretty sure she was asleep the entire time. She appears bored from start to finish and is never believable at any level of emotion. It's tough to feel anything for the story's protagonist when she apparently couldn't be any less interested in the events surrounding her.
The rest of the cast is forgettable at best, with Kyle Gallner lamely filling the role that was once occupied by a very young and already quite charismatic Johnny Depp. It's not a particularly challenging role (no one expects the replacement to rival Depp's screen presence), but Gallner makes it look difficult. And boring. Like everything else in the movie, the characters are never engaging enough to pull us into their nightmare and make us fear the dangers of falling asleep.
Much of that fear must be communicated by the terrorized teens, who fail miserably, but it is ultimately the monster who has to do the most work and convince us that being scared is our only option. In order to fill the shoes of franchise star Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in all seven previous Nightmare movies (and again in the spin-off Freddy Vs. Jason), the decision was made to cast wiry actor Jackie Earle Haley to play the iconic role. The casting sounded like a great idea on paper and I'm sure that there's a director out there who could find a way to effectively utilize Haley under all that melted flesh makeup, but this version of Freddy is just as drab as the pretty people he's trying to kill.
Haley tries to play the character with a venomous edge and very little humour, which could be a good thing, considering how Englund's Freddy devolved into a goofy joke later in the Nightmare sequels. But there's nothing scary or intimidating about this Freddy, either, which makes his whole act feel entirely empty. His voice is a guttural growl and he never wastes an opportunity to drag one of the metal fingers on his instantly recognizable glove across a metal surface, but for all of Haley's attempts to instil fear, this version of the character never rises above being a second-rate ripoff.
By playing the role with such angry seriousness, Haley ends up transforming Freddy into a new kind of joke, one that doesn't know how to laugh or play along. The failure to re-imagine Freddy for a new generation of would-be fans acts as a final nail in the coffin of this trivial trash, proving that the efforts of Strick, Bayer, Mara, Haley and everyone else involved have done nothing more than make the first movie look positively miraculous in comparison. Nothing works in this unnecessary remake, where every scene is a patchwork of ideas executed with far more imagination twenty-six years ago. There are many moments here that will look and sound familiar to fans of the original, but these updated images are stale interpretations at best. Wherever this franchise goes from here (hopefully in a completely new direction), I wish never to experience this Nightmare again.