Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Friday the 13th, post-screening thoughts....

UPDATE (2/13/09): I've re-evaluated my thoughts on this one since the other night. Wrote up a new take over at the KING site, if you want to see what my two-days-removed stance is --- KING site, Friday the 13th column post

And there we have it....the new Friday the 13th flick. Seen, absorbed, partially dissected on the way home. There's a bit of an opinion tug-of-war going on here, because there were a slew of elements that I really liked in the film, but just as many, if not more, problems that can't go unaddressed. I think a big issue I have is one that I do acknowledge as somewhat "never happy" in its unfairness, but so be it. Opinions are like my asshole....or something like that.


First, the plot rundown: well, not much in the way of plot here, really, which isn't a surprise, and is actually welcome, being that we're in Camp Crystal Lake. Basically, the Jason Voorhees mythology is the same (his mother went on a killing spree years ago, seeking vengeance against irresponsible camp counselors who let her deformed, handicapped son Jason drown; but Mrs. Voorhees got her head lopped off by the massacre's lone survivor). The only kink here is that somehow water-logged dead-kid Jason came back and watched his mother's execution firsthand, and it fucked his head up royally. As the film's present-day scenario opens, Jason lives in the woods surrounding Crystal Lake, and has a mutual pact with the local townsfolk---don't fuck with me, and I won't fuck with y'all, but whoever intrudes on dude's territory becomes a carving board. Cue the first group of weed-chasing soon-to-be-victims, all offed except for one, Whitney, who goes missing. Two months later, her brother, Clay, goes looking for her, and gets mixed with a new group of poorly-written college kid characters. Then, of course, the bodies pile up Connect Four.

The premise is right, and the stage is nicely set for some inventive carnage. Creative kills are what always made the Friday the 13th films so gruesomely charming, so you'd think director Marcus Nispel and screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift would go for broke and pull off some holy-shit death scenes, right? Well, you'd be dead wrong, and there's my first major qualm with this flick---there isn't one truly memorable kill scene. Nil. That's a cardinal sin, my friends. Rather than put their thinking caps on and push envelopes like weight, the filmmakers opted to either overuse Jason's trademark machete or simply "pay homage" to some of the franchise's more popular kills, instead of dreaming up their own. Crossbow fires an arrow through somebody's eye-area, as in Part III? Check. Somebody dies while in a bodybag, like in Part VII? You got it, though at least the sleeping bag demise here kinda-cleverly flips it into a non-weapon murder.

This clip shows a tribute paid to Part II, and perhaps the best-employed homage in the entire movie.

Lord knows if I had the chance to scribe this screenplay, I would've spent sleepless night after tired night trying to blow people away with the kill scenes. Sure, a couple of machete slashes would appear, but not the five or so that we see here. Okay, okay---the death by machete splitting right down the center of that one dude's forehead was pretty awesome. Just feels like a slightly wasted opportunity overall.

The second big flaw I couldn't shake was how the filmmakers totally shoot their load all over the screen only 20 minute in, never a good idea. Save the best for last, man. After an opening credit sequence that shows the Mrs. Voorhees beheading, we're thrown right into a condensed, 15-minute Friday the 13th film of its own before the red title card appears. Talk about getting things off on the right foot, too---the mayhem that baghead-Jason causes for the five campers in this section is taut, intense, brutal, and relentless. Had me thinking, Shit, this is going to be even better than I'd hoped if they keep this momentum going. Sadly, nothing else in the remainder comes close to the pre-title-card story. Meaning, it's downhill from there.

Lastly, the biggest nitpick of mine, one that harkons back to the first graph here: this feels absolutely nothing like a Friday the 13th film. Granted, the whole point was to completely relaunch the franchise and give it some new blood, so to speak. I would've loved to have even a second of nostalgic feeling, though. The original films feel wonderfully skeevy, sleazy. Fearless in their absurd abandon and so debauchery-and-graphic-slaughter-filled that they're at times uncomfortable to watch. This new one, however, is too now. Too reliant on heavy industrial music, and an overall atmosphere that feels like the long lost twin of Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.


This Jason Voorhees shares more with that redo's Leatherface incarnation than should've ever been the case, in fact. Both operate out of an underground lair, for example, and that's a massive narrative decision made here that I'm not a fan of in the least. Yes, it makes sense to show where Jason goes when he's not killing everybody in sight, but why does he have to live in a dirty, claustrophobic mineshaft straight out of Horror Movie Cliche 101? Especially when the film is coming right after the more effective mineshaft setting of My Bloody Valentine 3D? Jason here comes across as a devil's reject who couldn't make the A-team against those Hills Have Eyes 2 (the terrible recent sequel) freaks.

I've been nothing but negative so far, so I'm sure this next statement may come across as hypocritical, but fudge it. I didn't hate Friday the 13th, at all. Would I see it again? Sure, why not? I was entertained throughout, and any time some visceral brutality is on screen courtesy of Hollywood's pussy-powered suits I have to salute. Plus, the script knows when to toss in comic relief, and does it well. I'm just too in love with the old-school '70s/'80s style of filmmaking that, when today's talents attempt remakes, I'm a harsh critic to the max. Doesn't help that I've been rewatching as many old Friday installments as possible in preparation, so the tone of those is fresh in my mind.

Undeniable props must be awarded to the casting folks for their choices in women here, though. This could be one of the strongest crop of scream-queen-hotties ever assemled in a single horror flick. Seriously. There isn't one weak-looking spot in the lot. to make matters even better, the three most smoking ones all go topless! You can't beat that with The Bear Jew's bat! America Olivo (recipient of her own Barone's World post earlier today), Willa Ford (yes, the one-time pop singer turned plain-old sex kitten), and Julianna Guill (first time seeing her, better not be the last) nearly steal the show away from Mr. Voorhees in his own shit.

That's Will Ford in the cut-off yellow top, and Julianna Guill seated next to her. Guill is a "stupendous" problem, I swear.

Friday the 13th, ultimately, is an enjoyable-enough horror flick that's unfortunately riddled by way too many missed opportunities. One of those "imagine what this could've been" situations. Like, how lame was the "Jason finds the hockey mask" scene here? You'll (hopefully) concur once you've seen the film. Trust me, though, it's about the weakest possible way Jason could ever get his beloved mask, and the whole scene itself feels painfully tacked on just to have a half-assed backstory for the mask.

The final shot is excruciatingly predictable and lazy-in-inclusion, as well. I won't totally spoil it here, but it shouldn't take a brain surgeon to know that Jason comes back for one last scare, after we're led to believe he's no more. The way the "Gotcha!" moment plays out in this Friday the 13th is insulting, if you ask me. A prime example of the overused scare-then-immediately-roll-the-credits tactic that never works in modern-day horror films, yet keeps being rehashed.

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