Friday the 13th (2009)
The original Friday the 13th (1980) movie was a box office success due to a perfect storm of events. Overall the film is cheap, functional and the only real element of note are Tom Savini’s grim prosthetic effects work. But this is the nature of horror cinema. It is a genre that can be produced quickly and cheaply. That is not to say that Friday the 13th is without its merits. It has a grim sense of honesty and there’s even an attempt at a narrative twist at the end. It is very much a product of its time and that is reflected in its subtext and themes. Cinema often ends up mirroring, directly or indirectly, the prevailing socioeconomic trends. So it is logical to suggest that if you wish to successfully reboot such material, you need to recalibrate to suit the premise to needs and expectations of contemporary audiences. However, director Marcus Nispel has opted not to do this with his 2009 remake. Instead he just gives audiences a distillation of the most basic elements of the franchise, on a higher budget.
Overall Friday the 13th suffers from perfunctory direction and a lazy, uninspired screenplay. There is a brief opening scene where Pamela Voorhees (Nana Visitor), is beheaded by a camp counsellor, after she goes on a killing spree at Crystal Lake summer camp. Yet this one good interesting idea is promptly abandoned. Exactly what her motives are is glossed over. Thirty years later a group of teenagers seeking marijuana growing in the woods are attacked by her son Jason and all are murdered, except for one who resembles his mother. Several weeks later, a second group of teenage “fun lovers”, arrive at Camp Crystal lake and promptly embark upon a competition to which one of them is the biggest asshole. They subsequently fall foul of crazy Jason. A game of cat and mouse subsequently ensues but it’s all devoid of tension or originality. When Jason changes his burlap sack for the iconic hockey mask, it is presented for the audience’s edification in the same way as Batman donning his mask and suit for the first time. It’s all somewhat risible.
The teenage victims that are the sacrificial goats of this series, have never really been of any particular interest (apart from Tommy Jarvis). They continue to be superfluous in this instalment. The only difference this time round is that they are more obnoxious than ever and most of the breasts on display are now “cosmetically enhanced”. Overall, the focus of the franchise has always been the enigma of Jason Voorhees himself. He started off as a delusion of a homicidal mother, then changed into a deformed, shed dwelling, gimp before evolving into the lumbering, unstoppable, killing machine sporting a hockey mask, that we know and love today. Whatever you may think about the convoluted and contradictory lore, it has always been clear that Jason Voorhees is more than just a man. Yet in this movie he rendered down to just an oversized, brain damaged murderer. He lacks any “je ne sais quoi” and is less interesting and threatening than Michael Myers or even Victor Crowley. Such a flaw is fatal and relegates this remake to the status of just another slasher.
By the time the Friday the 13th franchise found its feet, in the middle eighties, the formula was clear and simple. In the first act, put some teenagers in peril and have a few jump scares and red herrings along the way. In the second act, start to pick them off one by one with various creative death scenes. Ensure there’s a chase and showdown between crazy Jason and “the final girl” at the denouement. Rinse and repeat. Add levity to taste. When it worked, it worked well. Friday the 13th Part 3 being a prime example. This cinematic recipe could have been easily repeated in 2009 and given a veneer or postmodern. It could have been Jason versus millennials. Yet despite such an open goal and an audience lining up to hand over their money, this 2009 fumbles the opportunity. The murders and set pieces are darkly lit and uninspired, the characters are contemptible and gags fall wide of the mark. For example, a black character is axed to death in a “woodpile”. If Friday the 13th is ever to rebooted again, Paramount Studios need to do far better than this.