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A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) **

April 29, 2010

Written by: Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer

Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller

Directed by: Samuel Bayer

Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, terror and language

95 min.

U.S. Release Date: April 30, 2010

Veteran music video director Samuel Bayer (director of iconic videos by Nirvana, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Metallica) makes his feature film debut with a re-imagining of Wes Craven’s 1984 horror staple “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.  Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from “Watchmen”) takes on the iconic roll of the dream-dwelling killing machine Freddy Krueger.  Throughout the last decade or so, there have been several 70s and 80s horror film remakes (“Halloween”, “Dawn of the Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to name a few), so moviegoers are already in the mode of comparing and critiquing updates with their predecessors.  With his music video background, Bayer’s version of “Nightmare” definitely has a strong visual style, but with all the comparisons to the original “Freddy” films, will the new one find its place in the canon, or sit in the corner all alone?

Teenagers Dean (Kellan Lutz), Kris (Katie Cassidy), Jesse (Thomas Dekker), Nancy (Rooney Mara), and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) all go to the same high school and are experiencing some very peculiar shared experiences.  Anytime any of them fall asleep, they all have the same recurring dream: a burned-looking man in a striped sweater and a fedora torments them with his blade-adorned glove.  The longer they stay awake, the harder it is to fight sleep, and when the sleep comes, Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) is waiting for them.  Though Freddy only has power in the dream world, if he kills his victims, they die in reality.

Though Craven’s original “Freddy” films serve more as venues to display creative and gory murders, Bayer’s version focuses more on the character development of the high school students, as well as Krueger himself.  The more encounters the teens have with Freddy in their “micro-naps”, the more they learn about how their lives are intertwined with that of their blade-wielding pursuer.  Along with the more back story-centric aspects of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, Samuel Bayer packs in some kills and jump scenes to keep old fans pacified.

Like I stated above, Samuel Bayer definitely brings his music video aesthetic into this production, which results in some very good looking scenes.  Bayer’s timely edits and creative camera angles add to the suspense of the film.  I loved the use of unorthodox lighting setups that were used when characters transitioned from consciousness to sleep.  The characters remained in a world that looked like “reality”, but the lighting was just “off” enough to give it that twisted dream-world look.  From a simply visual perspective, Bayer’s take on “Freddy” brings a breath of fresh air to the franchise.

Where the film succeeds in aesthetics, it falls a bit flat in the traditional horror genre sense.  For one, the “kill count” in this film is disappointingly low.  For those that do bite the bullet, it’s in very dull fashion by today’s standards, or even the 1980s for that matter.  Usually you can tell the pulse of a packed audience, especially pre-screening audiences, if there is genuine fear being evoked.  Based on the reaction of the audience I was a part of, I don’t think anyone will be losing any sleep tonight on account of this movie.  It is a really unfortunate situation, especially with the built-in fan base and previous examples to build a film with.  Sadly, this picture is trying to be too smart for its own good and blur the lines of genre with too much character development (one of the few times you’ll ever read this coming from me!).  If Bayer had decided to stick with the kill spectacle while adding his unique visual style, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” would have been a success.

To answer my original question, Bayer’s “Freddy” re-imagining (because it is not a steal off of the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) does not sit quite right in the company of other more successful horror remakes.  A director like Rob Zombie is a student of the genre with a vast knowledge of all things horror, and that reflects in his films.  I’m not sure if Bayer is lacking the passion for horror, or the studio pulled too hard on the reigns for his debut, but “A Nightmare on Elm Street” attempts to be a horror film without frightening or offending anyone, something that we all know is impossible.

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