Dir Marcus Nispel. US. 2009. 97mins.
Hollywood's latest 're-imagining' of a video era horror classic is a muscular but pretty unimaginative take on the films that turned hockey-masked, machete-wielding anti-hero Jason Voorhees into a slasher icon. Director Marcus Nispel and producer Michael Bay, who successfully updated The Texas Chainsaw Massacre five years ago, could well have another mid-level hit on their hands this time out. It remains to be seen, though, whether they have done enough to really re-boot the 29-year-old Friday The 13th franchise.
Warner opens the New Line/Paramount production in North America this weekend, using the Friday The 13th launch date as a marketing hook and maybe hoping to attract Valentine's Day couples out for some scary fun. The target will be the $36m opening achieved six years ago by the series' eleventh installment, franchise crossover Freddy Vs Jason. And the performance will be a bellwether for the fates of a number of other horror redos coming later this year.
Paramount (producer and distributor of the franchise's first eight installments) is distributing internationally, and will probably have lower expectations: the latest Friday The 13th films, like most of the recent seventies and eighties remakes, have performed significantly less well outside the US.
The script, by Freddy Vs Jason writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, doesn't use the original 1980 film (in which Jason only makes a brief appearance) as a blueprint. Instead, it tries to take the franchise, which seven years ago had become desperate enough for a sequel set in space, back to its roots, bringing in elements from several of the early movies.
In a promising 20-minute pre-title sequence set in the woods around the infamous Crystal Lake, the film swiftly delivers five of its more inventive and gruesome kills. Then it introduces a group of college kids, including pretty and kindhearted Jenna (Panabaker) and obnoxious jock Trent (Van Winkle), heading for a lakeside party weekend and hunky good guy Clay (Padalecki), who is searching the area for his missing sister.
The set-up creates dramatic threads that are half-heartedly followed as the action unfolds and in keeping with the teen spirit of the early films Nispel throws in a couple of sex scenes, a few boob shots and some mildly druggy humour. The main interest, however, lies in who's going to die when and how.
The film is never terribly scary, with many of the jolts being flagged in advance and accentuated by very loud noises having no apparent connection to the action. Most of the killings are by machete or some kind of spear and while Nispel finds plenty of different ways for the weapons to penetrate heads or bodies he doesn't come up with anything particularly amusing or original.
Jason (portrayed by towering actor-stuntman Derek Mears) appears first in the sack hood he wore in the second Friday movie and then stumbles upon the famous hockey mask. It's the sort of moment fans of the original films will love but besides a couple of scenes in the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake and a brief glimpse of Mrs Voorhees the film does little else to play off the mythology of the franchise. Its only significant addition to the mythology is to give Jason an underground lair of the kind often favoured by horror movie killers.
DP Daniel C Pearl, who shot the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as Nispel and Bay's remake, gives the proceedings a nicely atmospheric look but in other departments the film seems torn between retro and contemporary approaches.
Uninspired casting is another problem. Padalecki, Panabaker and Van Winkle are all easy on the eye and adequate in their parts but less obvious choices would have given the film more life. And assigning comic relief to an Asian guy (Yoo) and a black guy (Escarpeta) seems lazy at best.
The film's final scene leaves the door open for new sequels, but Warner and Paramount may want to see how this rehash of the venerable franchise performs before making any commitments.
New Line Cinema
North American distribution
Daniel C Pearl
Travis Van Winkle