I saw the movie at an advance screening Wednesday night in downtown Chicago. My verdict? Samuel Bayer's A Nightmare on Elm Street
is definitely not as good as Wes Craven's original, for a variety of different reasons (Warning: mild spoilers follow
- Wes Craven's film worked primarily because he was working with a small budget, so everything had this grungy and gritty look. Those limited resources allowed him to bend the line for what was real, and what was dream. This worked because we almost never fully remember our dreams, which is why they've always been so tricky to depict on film. We usually only remember fragments, and the great appeal of Craven's original film is that you were never sure when you were in the real world or in Freddy's world. The remake doesn't blur that line nearly as well, and because of Bayer's background as a music video director, he gives the dream sequences a heightened visual style, so it was obvious from the getgo that we're in Freddy's world and we lose a lot of that suspense.
- One of the other big reasons why Craven's original film was so good was because it was ambiguous about Freddy Krueger's sketchy past. He was defined as a "child killer", and molestation was never strongly hinted at, but merely alluded. By making him simply a child killer, it made Krueger that much scarier, and in the original film he's played as a very sinister guy, whereas in the later sequels he becomes a one-line joke, a wise-ass that completely loses the sinister edge that he had that worked so well in the original. Jackie Earl Haley returns to that, resembling the Freddy from the first film the most, but he still has some one-liners even though they are more darkly sardonic than outright witty or sarcastic. Furthermore, his past is given much more attention, and while it very smartly toys with the idea that maybe he was innocent, it never really commits to that idea, and it brings the molestation angle into much greater focus, forcing Freddy to become less the embodiment of evil and revenge, but more a confused figure that we don't understand.
- This has been my main criticism with all of the recent horror remakes is that they are soulless copies of what came before, and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) is no different. It's far more polished than Craven's original, with a much bigger budget and the advantage of better digital effects, but as a consequence it loses a lot of the grit and realism that worked so well for Craven's original. The characters are merely tertiary stand-ins with no personality or real purpose, the visuals are flashy but empty, and at the end of the day there's nothing really remarkable about what you're seeing. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) feels like a cheap cash-in, which is all the more frustrating because it isn't outright bad, and it may have been easier to hate had it been, but it's just passably mediocre and ultimately forgettable.
However, there are some things that do work. Nancy, our heroine, is given a meaty subplot and character arc that directly ties into Freddy Krueger's past. It isn't developed much, but there is an emotional resonance and while the actress playing Nancy isn't the world's best, the role doesn't really require magnificent acting, but there's enough on the screen and in the script to really pull you in and root for this character. It was one of the bright spots about the recent Friday the 13th
remake, where you have actual characters that are likable and you can root for. It does sort of conflict with those original films, where the teenagers were disposable because you were rooting for Jason or Freddy or Michael Myers to kill them, but I do like the fact that we're given some decent characters that have some resemblance of a character arc that allows the audience to become (even somewhat) emotionally invested in the story.
That said, A Nightmare on Elm Street
(2010) does take a much more serious and darker approach than what was taken with the Freddy the 13th
remake, and I commend the filmmakers for at least trying. It is very visually appealing, even though that at times detracts from the film, and while Jackie Earl Haley's performance is strong, the Freddy character is uneven which is more to do with the mediocre writing than it does Haley's strong performance.
It's a bit upsetting and defeatist to say that A Nightmare on Elm Street
(2010) is probably the best recent horror remake, but that's more of a backhanded compliment when you take into consideration what horror has had to offer recently when it comes down to remakes (or "re-imaginings") such as Rob Zombie's terrible Halloween
films, the aforementioned Friday the 13th
and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.