Note: This movie review contains minor spoilers, though if you’ve already seen the original Nightmare on Elm Street I’m not spoiling much.
In this day and age of modern cinema there are two things we can always count on: Another (often increasingly obscure) comic book hero movie is always around the corner, and scriptwriters are clearly running out of original movie ideas. For an example of the former note that Jonah Hex is around the corner. In regards to the latter, remakes are IN. Sometimes this means we are treated to a remake of an obscure late 70’s piranha movie (now in 3D! Joy!) or something a little more recognizable…like say Nightmare on Elm Street.
…at least it was not in 3D.
I did not come into Nightmare with high expectations for two reasons. First, this is a modern day remake of a classic movie franchise. This tends to be a death sentence for me before I even start watching the movie. I really liked the original Nightmare, and I always go into a remake of a classic movie fearing that modern day theatrics will mess up the spirit of the original with fancy computers CGI and all that jazz. Do not get me wrong, there is a way to make a modern day remake work. At the same time, there are also many ways through which it can and will fail. This holds especially true for Horror movies that aren’t named “The Decent” (which really should have kept the original untrimmed ending in North America, but I’m rambling)
I had one hope for this movie, one aspect that I wanted to be perfect beyond everything else. I really wanted to see Jackie Haley pull off one astonishing Freddy Kruger. This may seem like an obvious point, but I must point out that I am a huge fan of Haley after seeing Watchmen, a movie I largely enjoyed for the sole reason of seeing Haley running around as Rorschach (everything else was hit or miss about that movie for me). Haley had the potential to pull off an amazing Freddy, he had the voice, the posture, a perfect man to put on the claw glove. I could have cared less if everything else about the movie sucked if Haley did a good job.
Sadly everything that made Haley awesome in Watchmen was not present in this movie. Instead, viewers are treated to a subpar performance by not only Haley, but pretty much everyone else in the movie. I’ll give Haley props for trying, he was close and looked menacing enough, but whenever he spoke the veil of a creepy evil dream stalker was removed from my vision. Instead of a Rorshach voice, we get something that sounds like Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Now when I think of Freddy, I half expect him to appear in one of the kid’s dreams, grab them by the neck, and shout WHERE IS HE?!?
Freddy to me is not a vigilante seeking justice; he is an evil vengeful bastard that takes pleasure in killing people and listening to their final screams of terror. Having only watched the original Nightmare and subsequent remake I won’t attempt to analyze the motives that drive Freddy, but Haley as Freddy to me felt too driven by revenge, killing the children as revenge against the parents that hunted him down. While this is good, the actual horror aspect, the pleasure that Freddy gets from playing his little cat and mouse game of hunting down the victim before pouncing on them brutally and killing them is completely lost here. Nightmare is a horror movie franchise; this remake was a supernatural revenge movie starring evil Batman. Freddy still shows up, states his trademark line before appearing and killing the victim after a witty one-liner, but it all felt soulless here, and not at all menacing. I dare say it: Haley mostly ended up sleepwalking through his acting role.
If Haley was sleepwalking through this movie, than clearly the teen protagonists never got out of bed. No one really seemed to have their heart in this movie. Truthfully, the direction is more to blame for this. The movie builds itself on the shock value to the point where it relies on the jump way too much. In order for a shock to work, you need both a startling audio cue and a visual reaction on screen. The audio was there, oh boy it was there, but the kids definitely did not have that “oh crap the killer is behind me” reaction that you would suspect. The momentum fades instantly leaving a bunch of teenage kids acting like their stoned…though to be fair it wouldn’t surprise me if Quentin really was. I’d pass on that date promise Nancy.
As for building suspense…well suffice to say this movie does not try to be clever in offering any true surprises. You will see every shocking moment coming a mile away. As my horror movie aficionado girlfriend sitting next to me constantly said throughout the movie “it’s coming…anytime now…” in regards to the not so subtle hints that Freddy was about to “shockingly” appear. I couldn’t help but agree.
Speaking of dreamland, the alternate realty did provide one of my favorite parts about the movie: the transition between real world and dream world. I’m a sucker for cool visual tricks, and there were some pretty cool surreal tricks as the teens crossed over, not to mention some of the things that occurred in the dreams themselves. While I liked it, the movie could have done a much better job at promoting suspense here. At one late point one of the teens says “It’s becoming difficult to determine what is real anymore, if we are awake or asleep.” I was thinking they would play with both this and the whole “awake while sleeping” thing (whatever the medical term for it was called) a lot more. Sadly it was a one surprise trick never to surface again. Pity.
On its own, Nightmare ranks as a completely average movie in my book. My dislike for the movie stems mostly from disappointment in what could have and should have been an excellent 90 minutes of Jackie Haley running around killing people with an uber claw glove. Nightmare purity aside, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the movie at the end of the day, but it really could have been so much more. This movie will not give me nightmares due to being a cinematic disaster, but I will lose sleep wondering what could have been.