A Nightmare On Elm Street Review
Love them or hate them, remakes are a profitable business; love him or hate him, Michael Bay knew this as well which is why he set up Platinum Dunes who have been responsible for introducing the likes of Leatherface and Jason Voorhies to a whole new generation. The relative success of these 21st century updates is very much a personal opinion, dependant on your acceptance of remakes, but arguably Platinum Dunes haven’t yet had an unmitigated disaster with a remake that would rival Rob Zombie’s Halloween, although nor have they had a success story like Zach Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead yet either. Next on their iconic character hit list is Freddy Krueger in a remake of 1984’s horror classic A Nightmare On Elm Street and unfortunately it’s more of a Halloween than a Dawn Of The Dead.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the original or the inspired Simpsons parody, A Nightmare On Elm Street revolves around a group of adolescents who discover they are having the same dream about the same man; a man who wears a red and green sweater and fedora hat with a disfigured face and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. That man is Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) and after one of the group dies, they realise that what happens in their dreams happens for real and must figure out why he is after them and how to stop him.
From the moment that this remake was announced, a lot of the talk on forums across the Internet was understandably focussed on Freddy Krueger, especially so once it was announced that Robert Englund would not be reprising the role and that honour instead would go to Jackie Earle Haley. As Freddy, Haley does an OK job but despite the decision to revert the character away from the camp, one-liner spouting version that Freddy became in the numerous sequels, Haley is never quite menacing enough. However this is not all Haley’s fault as the director Samuel Bayer, award-winning music video director making his directorial debut here, is intent on making every dream sequence end as rapidly as possible with ineffective jump scares. It’s unfortunate as when Haley does get an extended dream sequence to toy and torment his victims during the film's finale, he does a creepily effective job of conveying a truly repulsive character far removed from the anti-hero that Englund’s Freddy became.
The decision to add a bit of ambiguity to Freddy’s back-story is one of the few impressive elements of the film which gives it the opportunity to explore the issues that the original never could. We don’t get any back-story of Freddy until about halfway in and when it’s told, or rather shown to us via one of the character’s dream sequences, the full story is not given resulting in a slight doubt about the reliability of the parents’ reasoning for burning Fred Krueger alive. This is only added to with each adult’s unwillingness to answer their children’s questions and it would have at least added a sense of originality to this overall remake. However, it seems that the film makers got cold feet and hastily add a third act reveal that undoes all of their good work in creating mystery to a well-known story.
It’s a recurring theme throughout this film that good ideas are introduced in order to bring A Nightmare On Elm Street into the 21st century and then either ignored or recanted seemingly in fear of making this remake too different from the original. The addition of the idea of micro-naps further adds to the effectiveness of the original’s premise in that everyone has to sleep so Freddy is eventually unavoidable unlike other horror icons at the time. However, aside from one inspired sequence in a pharmacy where Nancy (Rooney Mara) flicks in and out of micro-naps while Freddy is chasing her, the idea is pretty much forgotten about which is a shame as it could have added a growing sense of unease as the characters stay awake longer and struggle to tell reality and dreams apart.
Maybe this lack of boldness with new ideas would have been ignored if Bayer had focussed on crafting some really elaborate dream sequences which, given his background in crafting short, memorable videos, should have been a given. Instead he chooses to lift scenes straight from the original such as Lisa’s death scene, although it happens to a different character, and makes the majority of the other sequences exist within Freddy’s boiler room almost always ending with an uninspired splattering of blood. There is no memorable lasting image such as Johnny Depp’s demise in a fountain of blood from the original but what’s worse is that there never seems to be an attempt to create one.
Another major issue with the film is its pacing resulting in its hour and a half running time feeling a lot longer and, ironically, making you want to fall asleep. Three of the five main characters are dispatched with by the halfway point, one of those even before the title scene, leaving us in the company of just two main characters for over 45 minutes. If this time were filled with near-death dream sequences, it might have been forgivable but instead it mainly consists of them trying to stay awake and solve a mystery that doesn’t even get fully resolved until the final scene. It’s as though the screen writers didn’t feel like expanding the stories of the other characters meaning that you barely get to know them before they are killed.
The biggest shame of this is that Bayer actually had a decent cast to deal with unlike most standard horror casts nowadays. Rooney Mara arguably has the hardest time in that she plays the only main character, aside from Freddy, that is carried over from the original but she manages to make her own version of Nancy rather than just retread Heather Langenkamp’s girl-next-door image. The rest of the cast are all recognisable faces such as The Haunting In Connecticut’s Kyle Gallner as Quentin, Supernatural’s Katie Cassidy as Kris and John Connor himself, Thomas Dekker, as Jesse but the main problem for them is battling the script which doesn’t really cast them as anything other than typical stereotypes such as Quentin being the emo outsider who can’t share what he really feels about Nancy.
Despite its shortcomings, much like the other horror remakes Platinum Dunes have produced, A Nightmare On Elm Street will probably go on to be a box office success. That fact, combined with the obligatory open horror movie ending, will probably result in further sequels and at least then the film makers won’t exactly have as high as a standard to compare to which might free them creatively. Overall though, the biggest problem with this remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street is not that it’s poor compared to the original, it’s that it’s poor as a horror film in its own right.