I really do think that after Wes Craven made “Scream,” a decently frightening satire about common horror movie tropes and clichés, it was time for horror writers and directors to change up their game a bit. Or at the very least, be creative with their material. However, nothing has been able to stop filmmakers from churning out the same old horror flicks year after year. Same jump scares, same stereotypical characters, same gruesome deaths. Only once in a blue moon are we treated to something that is smart, original, intriguing and, most importantly, scary as hell.
Notice that I say “original.” There is another thing that people just don’t know how to let go of nowadays: cashing in on old horror classics. These things rarely have an original idea anywhere in their already shoddy compositions. They regurgitate everything that was already done better in the original, giving little to nothing more to offer for series veterans. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th..” Let’s face it: these names have officially gone down the crapper thanks to shallow, lackluster rebirths. Time to add yet another to the list now, and that is “A Nightmare On Elm Street.”
As the story goes in this interpretation, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) began as a gardener for a local preschool. Krueger was externally friendly to all the kids during school hours, joining in on their fun and what have you. However, his instincts when alone with the kids are to become abusive, both physically and sexually. When word spreads from child to parent, the adults gather together to take care of Krueger once and for all. They chase and corner him into a small building and set it ablaze, allegedly killing him. In the present, the children that went to the preschool are now somewhere in their twenties. All of them are being haunted by subdued memories and disturbing dreams of the man whom they can no longer recognize.
After spending a decent amount of time waffling between characters, the movie finally settles on two main protagonists: Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara, loosely based on the main character of the original) and Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner). The rest of the characters are killed quicker than they were introduced. Whether they’ve been hacked, slashed, stabbed or torn apart, they are all victims of Freddy’s sadistic torture. So gone are the personalities, unique quirks, distinguishing characteristics, etc., that they could have had. I know it is ridiculous to bash a horror movie for not providing sufficient character development, but I expect horror movies to at least provide substance to go alongside the thrills.
Anyway, Nancy and Quentin, after doing a bit of research, discover the pattern of deaths that have been occurring among the preschool’s students. The two make an effort to find out anything they can about Krueger and the related crime, even if it means delving into the preschool’s depths and into Freddy’s secret room. During their investigations, they make a vow to perpetually stay awake and alert, as they fear that they are next in line to be massacred in their sleep.
As I’ve said previously, character development is very weak in this adaptation. The acting is basically on that same level. It is difficult to believe that these teenaged characters are having a constant fear of death lurking around each corner when none of the actors have the ability to emote. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, that it is downright foolish to judge a horror movie based on merits such as character development and acting. My response is that there are plenty of other movies out there that provide both, plus an interesting story, relatable characters, and they conform to the scares you would expect. If you are going to act in these types of roles, overact if you have to. It will be a million times more compelling than acting as a breathing target.
As much harsh criticism as I’m dishing out, I’ve got to mention that one concept that was done adequately was a flashback explaining Freddy’s back story as an assistant at the preschool. The word of his suspected transgressions comes from the mouth of the preschoolers and there is much speculation in the middle of the film as to whether or not the victims were truthful in their claims as young children. Either way, the parents accept that they are the facts and turn on Krueger by killing him in the worst possible way. For this short period of time, I actually fathomed the humanity of Freddy, who is persecuted without any logical evidence other than the children’s claims, and the inhumanity in the parents, who are heartless enough to burn alive the person whom they’ve got nothing on.
Come to think of it, Jackie Earle Haley did a relatively fine job as the vicious, deformed version of Freddy Krueger. Before walking into this movie, I wouldn’t have chosen any other person for taking on the job of the villain after watching Haley give a psychologically deranged performance as Rorschach in “Watchmen” from last year. But unfortunately, the dilemma is that he is not utilized nearly enough as he should be. Krueger is not onscreen for a good majority of the time and his writing and one-liners are not as witty as in previous installments. He doesn’t knock it out of the park as vigorously as Robert Englund, but it was a good modern day alternative.
In terms of horror classic remakes, this one is superior to the likes of “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” but that is just the issue. With the bar at that low a level, anything can excel with even an inconsequential amount of effort. This one did bring slightly more than just the idea to capitalize on a lucrative franchise, but nowhere near enough to make up for the numerous flaws in character development, writing, and acting. “A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)” does not infuse enough freshness, originality or liveliness that couldn’t be fulfilled by just watching the 1984 original. This one won’t be haunting many people’s dreams this year…at least not the haunting they’d hope for.