A Nightmare on Elm Street, the 2010 remix, is exactly what you’d expect from a Platinum Dunes film. It’s glossy, filled with attractive people, and occasionally gorier and darker than the film it’s based on. However, like much of Platinum Dunes output, it’s also a bit dull, dreary, and not nearly as fun or inventive as the original film.
Seemingly shot through the same lenses and filters used to film every horror movie and heavy metal music video in the post-Saw era, this new Nightmare opens promisingly enough, with young Dean Russell (Kellan Lutz) trying to stay caffeinated at the local diner whilst waiting for his close friend, Kris (Katie Cassidy). When Kris arrives, Dean tells her about these nightmares he’s been having; nightmares that seem so real, he’s afraid that if he gives in to sleep, he may never wake up. Kris assures him that these are only dreams, but Dean is inconsolable, and, when he nods off briefly, we meet the source of his nightmares; a hideously scarred, fedora-wearing maniac (Jackie Earle Haley) who slices open Dean’s throat with the blades adorning his right hand. To everyone else, it looks as though Dean has just committed suicide, but Kris and Nancy (Rooney Mara), an introverted fellow student who waits tables at the diner, know better.
While at Dean’s funeral, Kris comes across a photo showing her and Dean together as children, which strikes Kris as odd as she has no recollection of knowing Dean prior to their teens. At home, Kris digs through her old belongings, hoping to find a clue as to why there were pictures of her and Dean as children. It’s not long, though, before Kris starts dreaming of the disfigured man, and, soon, she too, is killed in her sleep, while her ex-boyfriend, Jesse (Thomas Dekker), looks on. Jesse is the chief suspect in Kris’ murder, but Nancy knows better. She’s been having similar dreams of a man who calls himself “Freddy”, and she soon discovers that she’s not alone. With the help of Quentin (Kyle Gallner), Nancy learns that she and her friends all attended pre-school together, where the gardener, Fred Krueger, was accused of molesting them. Nancy’s mother tells her that Krueger fled before he could be prosecuted, but Quentin has a very vivid dream in which he sees Freddy’s true fate at the hands of their parents, and is convinced that the wrongly accused man has come back for revenge. Now it’s up to he and Nancy to put things right, or suffer the same fate as the rest.
Unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th reboots before it, music video director Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t deviate too much from the source material. Sure, save for Freddy and Nancy, most of the character’s names have been changed, and there are a few twists thrown in (although they’re neither surprising nor do they amount to a whole heckuva lot), but, in terms of plot, not much has changed. To be honest, I’m fine with that, as the Nightmare films are a completely different animal than the Texas and Friday franchises, and Freddy is a completely different, much more sophisticated antagonist than either Jason or Leatherface could ever hope to be. Give those two a truck full of nubile nymphs, and enough real estate to chase them around on, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Freddy doesn’t work that way. His needs are more specific. His killing fields are his victim’s nightmares, and, as the title suggests, said nightmares have a direct correlation to a little place called Elm Street. There’s an established mythology that, even with a reboot, can’t be altered too drastically as it just wouldn’t be…well…it wouldn’t be A Nightmare on Elm Street, now, would it? So this adherence to Craven’s original concept – something born of necessity – turns out to be the film’s biggest detriment.
With Craven’s 1984 original, viewers were treated to a series of imaginative and inspired moments that took advantage of the film’s antagonist’s ability to stalk his victims in their dreams. This was recreated through the use of hallucinatory imagery, nifty camera trickery, and, for its time, truly cutting edge special effects work. Some of the sequences in that film were just downright nutty, with “long armed” Freddy chasing Tina down an alleyway, or Nancy’s creepy encounter with the hallway monitor wearing Freddy garb. Little things like the goat standing in the corridor, or Tina’s bloody body bag “dragging itself” away; Freddy’s tongue coming through the telephone receiver, the Johnny Depp geyser – these were images that stuck with you, and haunted you for days. This new Nightmare has nothing like that. Sure, we get swirling smoke and sea foam green lighting, and there are a few nifty sequences when Nancy and Quentin are so exhausted that they succumb to waking dreams (micronaps), but there was nothing that stuck with me like those simple scares Craven created nearly thirty years ago. Even the few moments recreated in homage fail to recapture the magic of the original (the scene in which Freddy pushes through Nancy’s wall in the original film looks leagues better than the shoddy CGI version here), while the kills – always a strong point of the series, even in its least effective outings – are just as flat and uninspired.
Nightmare’s only saving grace lay with the casting of Jackie Earle Haley, whose Freddy Krueger is both menacing and mesmerizing. I wasn’t crazy about the new make-up when I’d first gotten a glimpse of the promotional stills, but it’s actually quite effective when in motion, even if it does lack much by way of expression. This new Krueger’s face – more closely modeled after an actual burn victim - is frozen in a perpetual scowl, forcing Haley to do most of his acting with his eyes and body movements, but he pulls it off quite nicely. Freddy hasn’t been this “serious” (or scary) since the original film, and, if this truly is the launch of a new series of films, here’s to hoping they stick with this grim new model.
While I can’t say I enjoyed this new Elm Street, I wasn’t completely put off by it, either, and that’s probably my biggest criticism; it’s so innocuous that it failed to elicit much of a reaction from me either way. It is worth seeing for Haley’s truly interesting and unsettling take on a beloved genre icon, but let’s hope that next time (if there is a next time) the creators can dream up something a little more interesting for him to do.