18 March 2009

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)


B-

Friday the 13th
2009, 97mins, R
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writer (S): Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Victor Miller (original 1980 screenplay)
Cast includes: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears
Release Date: 13th February 2009

To kick start the review of any remake it’s probably best to say a little something about the source material, in this case 1980’s Friday the 13th. The film was a box-office hit, spawned one of cinemas most recognized bad guys (even though he only really came to prominence in the plethora of sequels) and ultimately along with Halloween deserves to be accredited for the boom in slasher movies for nearly a decade after it’s release. However despite being beloved by a generation it’s also fair to say that it sucked, the gore effects where top notch but the actual picture itself was incompetently assembled and in reality looking beyond the rose tinted perception it has garnered, undeserving of the many sequels and mountains of cash it attained. It’s surprising then that this reimagining courtesy of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes remake factory should be such a solid venture, the performances are less than stellar but in truth it provides a reasonable degree of tension and a healthy dose of imaginative death sequences. Basically it’s all and slightly more than anyone could have hoped for.

Friday the 13th 2009 almost condenses the original and immediate sequels into a singular 97 minute feature. The picture starts with a counselor for the now notorious Camp Crystal Lake fleeing, in hot pursuit a knife wielding middle aged woman hollering at the top of her voice. After a brief interlude in which it is revealed the woman’s son drowned whilst at the camp (and shock, his name was Jason) she is decapitated by the counselor after a quick drawing of weapons. Fast forward a number of years and a group of teens are frequenting the abandoned Crystal Lake area is search of a legendary Marijauana crop that if harvested could make them rich. They are promptly dispatched in gruesome fashion by the now adult Jason who it appears survived and saw his mother killed years earlier, now a brutal death machine in his own right for those who frequent his woodland domain. Move 6 weeks forward (and bear in mind we’re only 15 minutes into the film) and a new group of beer swelling, horny and where it applies busty teens are taking a break in the Crystal Lake area. On their journey they encounter Clay (Jared Padalecki) a young man looking for his sister who vanished in the area ahemm…6 weeks earlier.
One of their group Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) decides to help Clay look whilst the rest literally opt to get wasted and have sex back at their retreat on the lake. As Jenna and Clay search the lake they oversee Jason hulking a carcass around and run back to the others in warning, but the Crystal Lake monster is hot on their heels and soon the teens are being picked off one by one.

There is so little point in examining the performances in show here that I’m simply not going to bother, leaving aside Padalecki and Panabaker’s modestly acceptable efforts the rest of the crew are simply machete fodder. The aforementioned duo seem to be the only ones with any acting potential, the rest purely selected on their good looks, big boobs and willingness to show those assets at every available juncture. That’s not to say they’re an utterly reprehensible crowd of characters, but not one has enough dimensions to tug on our heartstrings.

The film’s strengths are all in the excellent production design, energetic direction and refined humanization of the villain. In the same way that Nispel’s own Texas Chainsaw reboot made its poster boy human, Friday the 13th injects the man behind the mask with slight depth and is far more focused on his legacy than that of its teen protagonists. Rob Zombie’s mediocre remake of Halloween for instance lathered on the bad guy back story to a laughable degree; here Nispel simply adds little touches to remind the audience that whilst he’s a vicious bugger there are some slightly warped reasons why Jason slaughters all around him.

The killings and mass bloodshed in the movie are certainly going to satisfy gore hounds, but for me it was the surprisingly effective use of dread and tension that keep this horror reboot entertaining. On a visual level franchise fans will get to see Jason burn someone alive in a sleeping bag, machete multiple characters in the head and demonstrate a knack for archery but for in terms of mass consumption it’s the solidly deployed moments of suspense that really provide the picture with its kick. One moment involving Jason skulking over a bridge with a character paddling below, is particularly notable in its strong use of dread over blood.

The production design and lighting are well structured to provide a spooky atmosphere and Nispel demonstrates the same sort of hyper kinetic camera work that when rationed can add an extra layer of excitement to proceedings. His lack of focus on character is a minor problem but otherwise the German director has conducted a well staged and enjoyable slasher fest. It’s not flawless or particularly memorable but fans of the series may in fact have just received their most enjoyable entry yet. It’s hard after all not to shiver with gleeful sadism when Jason picks up that mask for the very first time



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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