Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Friday the 13th (2009)
Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th (2009), a "reboot" of the popular slasher franchise of the same name, is a frustrating cypher of a film. A critical nonentity, it is neither especially commendable nor particularly condemnable. Few elements stand out as objects of worthy discussion and even those that do provide extremely meager returns. The filmmaking is professional but uninspired, resulting in a vaguely familiar smorgasbord of pastiches and rehashes, reconfigured just enough as to not raise any ire from those keen-eyed enough to recognize the inspirations. In short, it's a truly terrible movie, for it takes no risks and asks for no involvement from its audience.
It's not my usual style to discuss my opinion of a whole franchise in a review, but it seems somehow unavoidable here. I am not what you'd call a Friday the 13th fan. I have a certain understanding with the series, much in the way that I have an understanding with sillier kung fu flicks. I'll forgive the half-cocked and/or non-existent character development and the laughable excuses for a plot so long as I get the punchy-kicky bits – or the slashy-stabby bits, as it were. Once I've seen a Friday the 13th film, I tend not to have much more use for it. With that said, however, I usually enjoy myself during that single viewing, even if it's because an entry is awful. As you may have guessed, this new Friday the 13th is an exception to that rule.
A plot synopsis may be a tall order here, if only because the film's plot is already fairly sparse, but I'll give it my best shot. Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki, The CW's Supernatural) is searching for his sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti, Return to House on Haunted Hill), who went missing while camping near Crystal Lake. At the same time, a group of college students head out to a lakeside vacation home to party hard. One of the students, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker, 2010's The Crazies remake), fed up with her snobbish boyfriend (Travis Van Winkle, Left in the Darkness), joins Clay in his search. Together they discover the ramshackle cabins of Camp Crystal Lake. Worse, they happen upon the camp's extremely territorial resident, Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears, The Hills Have Eyes II). Mayhem and murder ensue.
That's probably more words than the story actually warrants. The point of a Friday the 13th plot is to place as many able-bodied people in the path of Jason as possible (excepting the original, in which Jason's mother is the killer, but you get the general idea). The lack of a compelling narrative isn't a flaw necessarily; one goes into a Friday the 13th film anticipating mindless shocks and gory spectacle, not plot or character development. However, Nispel and company can't seem to create enough worthwhile material to justify the flimsiness of the script.
One of the better examples of the general ennui pervading Friday the 13th is the sleeping bag kill before the opening title. Jason traps a nubile co-ed in her sleeping bag and then hangs her upside down over a fire. She cooks to death in a shockingly short amount of time. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, in his haste to save her, steps into a bear trap which effectively shreds his leg to bloody strips. The intent of the scene is to signal a “new” Jason, one who goes for the slow painful kill when he can. However, the point is pretty much lost in the tedious cacophony of pained screams. If Nispel intended for their agony to evoke a sympathetic response, he missed the ball. He doesn't even do us the courtesy of making it over-the-top enough to be funny.
I suspect that many of the problems in the film stem from its general mission, which is to both modernize Jason Voorhees and take him back to his roots as a human psycho killer. To this end, screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift come up with all of these rationalizations for why Jason works the way he does – he has tunnels underground which allow him to pop up anywhere on the Crystal Lake campgrounds. He's an intelligent survivalist, which is how he can outstalk his prey and kill them so effectively. None of these are necessarily bad changes, but they utterly fail to take into account that Jason is by his very nature a ridiculous, unrealistic character. Let's face it, he's a deformed giant whose primary malfunction stems from the fact that he witnessed his mother being decapitated during her attempt to avenge his death by drowning.1 "Convoluted" is definitely the word for it.
So, essentially, what Nispel and the screenwriters have created here is an attempt to understand a character in a way that's contrary to his very nature. By attempting to revisit the Friday the 13th franchise in a modernized context with a more realistic Jason Voorhees, they've undercut their every attempt to do anything fun, interesting, or exciting with it. While success is still possible in such a scenario, it's extremely difficult. Clearly this isn't a challenge that this particular team meets with any success, and we are left with a film that's sole notable quality is how utterly unnotable it is.