February 11, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Friday the 13th (2009)

HORROR:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-02-13

Running Length:

1:38

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears, Julianna Guill, Arlen Escarpeta, Ryan Hansen, Willa Ford

Director:

Marcus Nispel

Screenplay:

Damian Shannon & Mark Swift

Cinematography:

Daniel C. Pearl

Music:

Steve Jablonsky

U.S. Distributor:

New Line Cinema

Subtitles:

none


Sometimes I wonder if there's a point to reviewing something like this. Then again, if I shared my thoughts about Sex and the City, why not Friday the 13th? Let's get this out of the way at the start: If all you're looking for is breasts, blood, and gore, this film hits pay dirt. None of the killings are terribly inventive, but they are plentiful, and why bother being devious when axes, machetes, knives, and pointed sticks will do the job just as well?

Call me a rebel, but I ask a little more from my horror movies. Much as I enjoy the crimson tide of copious bloodlettings, I like the film to work on another, slightly higher level. The best horror films generate a level of almost unbearable tension. There's none of that here. Tension requires, at a minimum, a degree of character identification, and it's laughable to argue that anyone in this production could be considered a "character." They're sheep lined up for the slaughter. The story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that goes with the territory. Gone are the days when filmmakers actually spent time and effort on a horror movie screenplay. Gone are the days when anyone cared.

Considering Friday the 13th to be a remake is erroneous, although that's how it's being marketed. It's more of an alternate timeline exploration. The movie informs us at the beginning that it accepts the events of the 1980 original as its backstory. From there, it embarks upon a new course, essentially having the events of this movie replace those of Parts II and III. There are echoes of those movies here, but we're not in strict remake territory. This Friday the 13th is to the series as H20 is to the Michael Myers saga. The older events and characters remain but the later, sillier ones are swept away so things can start anew. Not that they're being replaced by anything appreciably better.

Friday the 13th opens with a bang - a high-energy prologue that sets up the pieces and knocks them down before announcing the film's title. Had the rest of the movie followed suit, I'd be recommending it to more than tits-and-gore lovers. Alas, the main story is a mess, with all the clichés firmly in place, the characters doing the dumb things one expects from them in horror movies, and no suspense whatsoever about who's got a chance to make it to the last reel. The narrative flow is inordinately choppy, but that's probably not the sort of thing most Friday the 13th viewers will notice (or care about).

This time around, our victims-in-waiting are a group of post-college men and women who have driven up to a summer home situated on the shores of Crystal Lake, not that far from the infamous "Camp Blood." (In a nod to the original, the location is still in Sussex County, New Jersey. However, unlike the original, it wasn't actually filmed there.) The seven vacationers are Trent (Travis Van Winkle), a stuck-up prick who screams like a girl; his girlfriend, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker); Bree (Julianna Guill) and Chelsea (Willa Ford), the hot girls who are guaranteed to get naked; Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), the token black; Chewie (Aaron Yoo), the token Asian; and the utterly forgettable Nolan (Ryan Hansen). Also in the mix are Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who is being held captive by mass killer Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears), and her brother, Clay (Jared Padalecki), who is searching the woods for her. There's no need to go into further details about the plot since it replicates that of 80% of the slasher films out there.

The blood, sex, profanity, and nudity are more extreme here than in the 1980 movie, but I suppose that's progress. The thing that's the most frustrating about this new Friday the 13th is how little creativity went into this re-imagination. The original may be a landmark on the cinematic landscape in terms of its importance to the genre, but it was not a great motion picture. There was an opportunity here to take the basic idea and do something special with it. For about 15 minutes, it appeared that was happening. After that… we get something that's more soulless, more pointless, and less enjoyable than anything in the original. Remake, reboot, re-envisioning - whatever you call it, it amounts to the same thing: a cynical money grab. This movie exists for the same reason that Rob Zombie's Halloween travesty was made - because the studios behind the projects won't give up until every last cent is bled out of the titles and they survive only as punch lines to bad jokes. This is the twelfth movie featuring Jason Voorhees, Camp Crystal Lake, and/or some combination of the two. Do we really want a thirteenth? If you can answer "yes" to that question, especially with this one unseen, then you deserve what director Marcus Nispel and co-producers Sean S. Cunningham and Michael Bay have provided.

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