By Malice Intended for Planet Ill
A group of teenagers have been having recurring nightmares in which a hideously disfigured madman (Jackie Earle Haley) stalks them. One by one, the kids inexplicably start dying in their sleep. The remaining few realize that the deaths are not merely freak occurrences, and that the loathsome bogeyman in their dreams might be behind it all. The introverted Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) and her friend Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner) search for answers, but the truth proves to be more terrifying than their worst nightmares.
Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street was a slasher film built around a great premise and a colorful villain. That villain, disfigured child murderer Freddy Krueger, became cinema’s most instantly recognizable slasher save for Jason Voorhees. A string of increasingly profitable sequels robbed the character of any fear factor by turning him into a virtual stand-up comedian. Platinum Dunes hopes to turn back the clock and give the gloved one a fresh start with this brand new take on the character.
The cinematography and lighting facilitate an atmospheric approach. Just as in the original, Freddy is shrouded in darkness for most of the running time and is slowly revealed as the film reaches its climax. There are certain shots that are nearly identical to key moments in the original, but this is not a shot for shot remake. The sound design does most of the heavy lifting in terms of jump scares.
The gore hardly pushes the envelope, and is surprisingly tame considering the jaded audience this film targets. Much of the actual carnage is computer generated. While this makes for more surreal imagery and fits in with the dream motif, the earthy qualities of practical effects are sorely missed. Thankfully, director Samuel Bayer shows restraint and does not allow the film to devolve into a CGI cartoon.
The film acknowledges the concept of sleep deprivation, something that was never really dealt with to any degree in the original to any real extent. This adds to the tension by putting a time limit on how long the main characters can actually evade Krueger. If the body does not get ample rest it will eventually shut down. Either way you will have to face the dream demon.
Like the original, the films most valuable asset is Freddy himself. The new take on the character is an intriguing one. While the original portrayed Freddy as a vicious child murderer, this new version portrays him as a pedophile that initially hides his perverse nature behind a mask of benevolence. Jackie Earle Haley sinks his teeth into the role. He refuses to let the elaborate makeup obscure his performance. While not quite as hammy as Robert Englund, he is actually a bit more menacing.
Therein lies the main problem with the film. It uses Freddy sparingly, which wouldn’t be a problem if the story itself was a bit more eventful. The first act meanders about and the narrative doesn’t find it’s footing until much later. While Nancy and Quentin develop real camaraderie, their relationship is the only one that feels the least bit substantial. The rest of the characters feel underdeveloped and neglected.
In the end, A Nightmare on Elm Street is hampered by the same thing as the “classic” original: a reluctance to dig deeper. The film relies solely on the superficial novelty of it’s premise and appeal of its villain. That’s not to say it has no redeeming qualities. The filmmakers manage to get some solidly creepy moments out of the material, and offer up a take on the character that will likely be criminally underrated by purists. While this isn’t enough to fully recommend the film, it does keep it from being a complete waste of time. 3 out of 5
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