*/**** Image C+ Sound A- Extras C
starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis van Winkle
screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, based on characters created by Victor Miller
directed by Marcus Nispel
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It's both surprising and disappointing that, after ten Friday the 13th films (or rather, ten Jason films), it took a crossover with Freddy Krueger to coax genuine pathos out of a hulking man-child who refused to die until he could sufficiently please Mommy. So it was to my great pleasure and delight that Marcus Nispel seemed poised to exploit that potential and separate it from its less savoury aspects. (He even starts things off with a pinch of disdain for the '80s nostalgia that brought this project to life, with the victims-to-be making weightless references to Blue Velvet and rocking out to Night Ranger.) Ironically enough, though, the remake reduces this worn-out scenario to something less complex. Using the bare essentials of the original film and its first sequel as backstory--a headless mother, oblivious campers in search of weed, and a backwoods monstrosity with a bag over his head--the amazing pre-title sequence implies that Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) is most effective as a rumour whispered around the campfire, specifically designed to keep you awake at night. Might be heresy to say it, but in this opening salvo, Nispel's Jason promises to become a presence of terror equal to his immediate antecedent, John Carpenter's trend-setting Michael Myers. He's not an amorphous bogeyman ready to leap from the shadows, but a piece of teenage folklore that by all rights shouldn't exist, brought to murderous life by overactive imaginations.
The problem is that horror audiences long ago decided what they think of Jason: he's more than just the realization of irrational fear in the popular perception--perhaps more than a cinematic icon, too. Indeed, he's the very embodiment of everything we know about slasher films, a force of nature that naturally responded to the conventions of the genre (drugs and sex) with bloody violence well before Scream ever deigned to vocalize that cycle.1 Disregarding a few hockey puns and a toast to the virtues of being "one big happy cliché," Friday the 13th '09 is not a post-modernist work. More to the point, it courteously delivers everything you expect from it, which doesn't fall under the category of fright or strict thrills, really--it exists for the cheap satisfaction of watching dumb pricks be eviscerated in nasty ways. We're not supposed to feel scared because we know precisely what's coming, thus we're expected to feel...what, exactly? Validation? Vindication? In his own Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake--and hell, in this film's aforementioned prologue--Nispel examines the perversions of the collective mind. But by the time the behemoth claims the trademark goalie mask to become his workmanlike self in Friday the 13th, Nispel has yielded to them.
Certainly the director falls back on familiar trappings in introducing Jason's horny prey, who have arrived at a mansion-like summer home on Crystal Lake to while away the weekend in a stoned haze. However, the target of derision in this case is not the casual hedonism that drives them, but the sheltered modern culture that has molded them. These dopes lean on logical constructs like guns, GPS devices, and machismo as if they were crutches, and it's made them soft and stupid. "I'm not your bro," nice guy/loner Clay (Jared Padalecki) tells Trent (Travis van Winkle) during one of several primate stare-downs that ends in nothing but empty threats and ruffled feathers. The meatbags in this iteration of Friday the 13th are not undeserving of life, per se--it's more that they're so ill-equipped for life outside their comfortable techno-bubble that Jason has no choice but to teach them harsh lessons in the art of survival. An apparent boy scout in his preteen days, the killer utilizes longbows, bear traps, and tripwire to dispatch his quarries. When one poor bastard sees fit to arm himself with a fire poker and a wok as he wanders into the darkness, the clear implication is that this kid has it coming, man.
Yet it doesn't matter what contempt the film may have for its characters: the fact remains that it's a slave to our expectations. The closest it ever comes to implicating us arrives in a moment where oblivious lovers tape themselves having sex as Jason stares on from a nearby window. Regardless of their transgressions, practically everyone gets the receiving end of some sharp object, so what's the point? Since it believes predictability to be the key to success, it's hardly surprising that Friday the 13th remains deadly dull even as it tries to drum up a sense of tension. Whether or not a body has been stuffed in a freezer, is there any doubt that said body will be discovered within seconds--quickly followed by Jason's inexorable appearance directly behind his newest victim? A recreation of Friday the 13th Part 2's climax is similarly lazy: we are told that Whitney (Amanda Righetti) kind of looks like Jason's mother; after a few weeks' imprisonment in his basement, the moment she finally asserts her maternal power is primarily introduced to wrap everything up (with a wood chipper) with haste2. It's a shame--those first twenty minutes would've made a dynamite short subject, simply because they know how to take advantage of the most basic elements of fear. Alas, Friday the 13th has nothing more to say, and spends the rest of its hundred minutes trying to convince you that it doesn't need to say anything else. Originally published: February 13, 2009.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers New Line made the best-looking DVDs in the business, yet somehow they dropped the ball in transitioning to the Blu-ray market and quickly gained a reputation for over-applying noise-reduction to their HiDef transfers. Sadly, the Friday the 13th remake's BD presentation is par for the studio course, boasting such an unnaturally smooth appearance that it almost looks airbrushed. Given the preponderance of anamorphic lens flares (Star Trek eat your heart out), I thought this was a 'scope film shot in HD, but it turns out that's not the case and the 2.40:1, 1080p image has simply been filtered of its celluloid charm. The lack of grain really takes its toll on the relentlessly dim interiors, scenes set in which are so full of unresolved detail that I checked out after a while, rarely to be re-engaged. The Dolby 5.1 TrueHD audio is "better" but the mix itself is surprisingly modest, perhaps to honour the series' lo-fi roots. Note that the "Killer Cut" designation on the packaging refers to an extended version of the film that's available alongside the theatrical release via seamless branching. (Tech specs for both are thus identical.) Although the EV runs nine minutes longer, about the only addition I noticed had Whitney being recaptured outside Trent's window as he and Bree obliviously continue to have sex--and I admit I probably only noticed that because it momentarily stirred me from a trance cast by the pendulous motions of Julianna Guill's spectacular breasts. Fortunately, "Sanchez" over at the aptly named FRIDAY THE 13TH BLOG has conducted a full and pissed-off inventory of the extra footage, which he found wanting mainly because Platinum Dunes apparently promised to reinstate an entire subplot that's still sitting on the cutting-room floor. The disc, for what it's worth, defaults to the extended version.
Supplementary material proper begins with "The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees" (11 mins., 1080p), in which all the young turks who brought this thing to fruition profess their alleged fandom for the franchise while talking about their souped-up modifications to same like the mechanics on "Pimp My Ride". Derek Mears, who plays Jason and bears a passing resemblance to horror icon Michael Berryman, has a kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm that's sort of infectious, but I lost my patience for his and others' stumping of this new-and-improved "smart" Jason. To quote Predator, "If it bleeds, we can kill it"--it significantly dilutes Jason's power to presume he's calculating rather than an inexorable force of nature; the smart can be outsmarted and are therefore tangibly vulnerable. Aside: this reboot's two stoner asshole fratboy screenwriters are uncannily suited to playing victims in a Friday the 13th movie, to the extent that I felt unfulfilled when they lived through these special features. "Hacking Back/Slashing Forward" (12 mins., 1080p) finds select cast and crew mostly adopting an ironic stance (think: Kevin Bacon jokes) in a lame appreciation of Jason Voorhees's legacy further hobbled by two key factors: a lack of clips from any of the original films; and an inexplicable topical shift towards Marcus Nispel Lovefest. Jason is described at one point as "catlike and quick"--need I say more? "The 7 Best Kills" (23 mins., 1080p) recaps the deaths of Trent, Richie, Amanda, Chelsea, Bree, Mike, and Officer Bracke. Spoiler alert. Very little practical information is dispensed, and the utter misogyny of Guill's death (she's suffocated, impaled on a three-pronged towel rack, shot several times, then thrown out a second-story window) is questioned rhetorically only to be shrugged off. These segments are unsavoury and borderline sociopathic in a way that frankly reminds of the behind-the-scenes featurettes in porn. A "Terror Trivia Track" rounds out the platter, though it's only accessible via BD Live and therefore inaccessible to me. A Digital Copy of the film resides on a bonus DVD inside the keepcase. Originally published: June 15, 2009.
1. The logical question: why did Jason come to bear that populist cross while predecessor Michael Myers's similar themes are typically approached with academic veneration? It may correspond to the lengthy absence of The Shape on movie screens between 1981's Halloween II and 1988's Halloween 4, but I'd say it's attributable to Halloween concerning itself more with irresponsibility (that is to say, the lack of virtue) where the Friday films directly approach the "sins" of lust and drug use. return
2. Another sorely missed opportunity: why, exactly, would Jason chain up the visage of his beloved mother? Does Whitney simply represent a living memento to him? return