Film Review: Friday the 13thWhat, you were expecting some kind of artistic masterpiece? The 'Friday the 13th' remake is an unapologetically brutal and boneheaded slasher picture. It's also an effective revival of a dormant franchise.
During the two decades that Jason Voorhees has been creatively butchering horny teenagers, the lumbering serial killer has traveled to Manhattan, Hell and the far reaches of outer space. Now he's headed to a place many of his fellow horror-movie icons—including Leatherface and Michael Myers—have already visited, a terrifying little burg known as "Remakeville." Escorting him on this journey are director Marcus Nispel and producer Michael Bay, the same creative team responsible for the widely loathed—at least amongst old-school horror fans—but incredibly successful Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. (Bay's production outfit Platinum Dunes has also funded new versions of The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher and is currently threatening to remake A Nightmare on Elm Street.)
As wearying as this trend of rebooting old horror franchises has become, if any series could actually benefit from a contemporary makeover, it would be Friday the 13th. While those viewers who grew up watching Jason's bloody exploits still regard the original films with a considerable amount of nostalgia, the fact is that the majority of them simply aren't good movies. Of the ten installments made between 1980 and 2001, only the first three still provide any shocks or scares. By the time Jason X rolled around, the series had moved firmly into camp and audiences were actively encouraged to laugh at the bloodletting rather than scream. So it's not a bad idea to take the series back to basics and that's precisely what Nispel and the film's screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have done. Aside from noticeably superior production values and bloodier special effects, there's little that separates this Friday the 13th from the films that kicked off the series almost 30 years ago. It's filled with gratuitous nudity, gruesome kills and obnoxious teenagers whose deaths you actively root for. And you know what? That's exactly what most moviegoers want from a Friday the 13th flick.
It's worth noting that, title aside, Nispel isn't remaking the very first Friday the 13th, in which Jason's crazed mommy went around knocking off teenagers. Instead, the events of that film are summarized in a five-minute prologue that opens this one, which is promptly followed by another prologue that establishes Jason as the boogeyman, thus neatly condensing all of 1981's Friday the 13th Part II into 15 minutes. That means that the bulk of Nispel's Friday the 13th is technically a remake of the series' third installment, a timeline theory confirmed by the fact that both feature a scene where Jason acquires his iconic hockey mask for the first time.
Shannon and Swift's serviceable script finds a group of overprivileged, oversexed teenagers with names like Trent, Bree and Jenna en route to a weekend vacation at a cabin on the shore of the infamous Crystal Lake. Along the way, they cross paths with Clay (Jared Paladecki), who is searching for his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), one of Jason's apparent victims in the second prologue. These characters go through the motions of pretending to find one another interesting, but really they're just marking time until Mr. Voorhees shows up and punishes them for their promiscuous ways. Sure enough, the dude soon comes crashing out of the woods armed with a variety of weapons, and the screaming, running and bleeding begins in earnest.
Although Nispel adheres to the Friday the 13th formula fairly religiously, he does make a few tweaks. For example, in his new incarnation, Jason is a regular speed demon, striking his victims with quick, forceful blows and somehow managing to be in multiple places at once. Also, this time around, being a virginal innocent doesn't necessarily save you from a date with his machete. (The bed-hoppers do still get their comeuppance first, though.) Otherwise, events play out exactly as expected, right down to the order in which the victims are dispatched.
To be honest, the movie's predictability is probably a good thing. One of the chief complaints about the recent rash of horror remakes is that they go too far in trying to reinvent the material, whether it's Rob Zombie turning Michael Myers into a white-trash version of Alex from A Clockwork Orange or the unnecessary addition of some fake Native American mysticism to the Amityville Horror update. In contrast, with both his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and now Friday the 13th, Nispel seems content to simply turn out a glossier version of the original film. As a result, neither movie lingers in the mind the way the earlier films do, but they do hold your attention—and even provide some bloody fun—while you're sitting in the theatre.