Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Dir. Samuel Bayer

When a group of high school friends begin to die while they sleep, level-headed Nancy soon discovers that she and her friends are being stalked in their dreams by the vengeful, now demonic, child killer their vigilante parents murdered years ago. Can she stay awake long enough to put a stop to his bloody killing spree and save her own skin?

One, two, Freddy's coming for you. Again.

In 1984 Wes Craven unleashed his long cherished, low budget slasher movie A Nightmare on Elm Street upon unsuspecting cinema audiences, and single-handedly created one of the most enduring and terrifying movie monsters of all time: Freddy Krueger. The definitive bogeyman for the MTV generation, Krueger reappeared in no less than seven sequels and a spin-off TV show as the series grew in popularity; each one upping his clownish antics and making him more ‘palatable’ for the multiplex crowd. Over the last few years an astounding number of horror films from the Seventies and Eighties have been revamped for the i-generation. It was only a matter of time before A Nightmare on Elm Street would receive the same treatment, which comes courtesy of Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes. Amongst the films they’ve recently remade are The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Hitcher and The Amityville Horror. They announced a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street as far back as January 2008, with Bay expressing an interest in returning the series to its dark origins.

Rather typically, New Line employed several writers to work on the screenplay. Wesley Strick was commissioned after he’d submitted a script for a proposed prequel to Se7en. Eric Heisserer, who wrote the remake of The Thing, redrafted it, and when Bayer became involved with the project, he too worked on the script, delving deeper into the background of Freddy Krueger. Whereas recent remakes of his other titles such as Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes were shepherded towards production by Wes Craven himself (acting as executive producer and creative consultant), Platinum Dunes completely left him out when it came to remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street. With a budget of $27 million (a far cry from the original’s meagre $1.8 million), the filmmakers planned return to the dark and filthy core of the original film and focus on the themes of generational conflict, isolation, the pain of adolescence and parental abandonment which made that film so potent. For the most part, Krueger remains in murky shadow and the crass humour, dilution of adult themes and general daftness that plagued later titles in the original series are thankfully absent from this reboot.



One of the most controversial aspects of the remake was the decision not to cast Robert Englund as Freddy, the role he became famous for. No stranger to genre cinema, or indeed portraying dark and disturbed characters, kudos must go to Jackie Earle Haley, who manages to imbue Krueger with an increasingly unsettling and nasty countenance. Freddy's iconic appearance as a horribly burned and mutilated man sporting a fedora, grimy red and green striped sweater and bladed glove, remains intact; though the make-up ensures he actually looks like a real burn victim, complete with missing ears. He’s chilling, but also generates a sliver of sympathy. Only a sliver, mind. Whereas in Craven’s original film, we only heard about Krueger’s past life as a child killer; here it is explored in flashback, and interestingly, the script momentarily introduces a certain degree of ambiguity regarding his guilt as the ‘Springwood Slasher’. A few lines spoken by Krueger from other films in the series, such as ‘How’s this for a wet dream’ and I’m your boyfriend now’ are reused here, with much darker, seedier implications.

A few interesting elements are added to the mix, such as the concept of 'micro-naps', during which the brain, after seventy-plus hours of sleep deprivation, shuts down for several seconds at a time to recharge, and one dreams without realising it; even if awake. The idea that the brain keeps functioning for a few minutes after the heart stops is also exploited in a chilling scene which suggests that even when a character has died in reality, Krueger can still torture them in their subconscious dream-state before the brain completely shuts down. Mention is also made of what will happen if the teens’ insomnia continues for too long; they fall into the permanent sleep-state of a coma, where the chance of escaping Krueger’s claws by waking up is not a possibility. There are even allusions to fairy tales such as the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, who stole the children of an entire town as revenge for a misdeed.



There’s much more of a mystery element involved too, as the teens gradually realise that their parents are keeping something from them. Hints that they actually knew each other in childhood and perhaps suffered some kind of trauma together pepper the early scenes. Some attempts are made to flesh out what are essentially two-dimensional stock characters, but the only two afforded any kind of characterisation are Rooney Mara as Nancy Holbrook, and Kyle Gallner as her boyfriend Quentin. Both are not your typical slasher teen heroes; they’re arty, moody, sensitive and awkward. But they are resourceful and loyal to each other. The generational conflicts explored in the original return, with the revelation that most of the teens come from single parent families and are suffering from all manner of psychological impairments such as depression and ADD. Their parents and doctors provide them with all manner of medications. Despite the nasty revelation that Krueger was a child molester (something even Craven was never that explicit about) and has been trying to terrorise Nancy long enough to keep her awake so she’ll fall into a coma where he can have his wicked way with her; it still somehow lacks the power of the original film. There is a genuinely unpleasant undercurrent but it never feels fully exploited. The lame set up for a sequel isn’t even worth talking about.



Lensed by director of photography Jeff Cutter, who photographed Jaume Collet Serra’s creepy Orphan, as well as several Mark Romanek directed music videos, A Nightmare on Elm Street looks as strikingly beautiful as the other Platinum Dunes reboots. It's obvious that director Samuel Bayer comes from a background in music videos (he’s responsible for the likes of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Marilyn Manson’s Coma White and Disposable Teens) as he laces the film with striking and daring imagery such as the snow-covered bedroom and the hallway floor that turns to blood. Some visceral and imaginative sequences where the lines between reality and dreams are manipulated, result in an off-kilter experience, however, despite having state of the art technology not available to Craven in the Eighties, the remake never really exploits it enough to create the spectacularly surreal dreamscapes it could. In fact, some of the CGI looks downright shoddy, particularly the shot in which Krueger appears through the wall above Nancy’s bed.

The score, courtesy of Platinum Dunes stalwart Steve Joblonsky, was recorded with the Hollywood Studio Symphony. Subtle references to Charles Bernstein’s original darkly synth-laden, nerve-jangling score are scattered throughout proceedings, namely in the haunting lullabies accompanying images of spooky children playing jump-rope. It’s a deeply unsettling and atmospheric work, which compliments the nightmarish visuals. Chilling use is also made of The Everly Brothers’ song All I Have to do is Dream.


While nowhere near the disaster it could have been, this remake, with everything it has going for it, just can’t muster the intensity it should. Despite a creepy atmosphere and some haunting visuals, plus decent performances and the unsettling incarnation of Krueger, it feels too formulaic and lacklustre to make any sort of dramatic impact.

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