By Scott Martin
Friday the 13th, USA, 2009
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Well, 29 years later, it was bound to happen: an attempt at a reboot of one of the most popular franchises in film history, taking in almost half a billion dollars worldwide. 11 films later, it still doesn’t make sense (even though there are twelve films, I say eleven, because I love the original), but, like most reboots, the director (here, Marcus Nispel of the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre infamy) ignores the existing films and sets off to deliver his own interpretation of the story. Picking up where the original film left off (kinda), Nispel takes us on a CW-star packed, machete-wielding, goalie-masked roller coaster ride. But why? There’s no evidence to support the idea that the series needed a reimagining. It’s not like it’s Batman and Joel Schumacher had been dropping loads on it for a few years. Starting with Part 2 (1981), none of the films were ever very good. I liked a few of the sequels, particularly Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), but it’s not like the story ever got lost in transition. Jason stalks people, he kills people, he dies, he comes back next year to stalk and kill more people. How is that hard to get right?
All of that aside, though, I have to accept the fact that it was made, and made well, for that matter. It never tries to be more than it is. Unlike Nispel’s first take on pulp terror, Texas Chainsaw, there isn’t much more than what’s presented, and he pulls out all the same tricks he did in that one, injecting ounces of needless humanity into our childhood bogies and instilling a sense of “is this over yet?” in his audience only to take it away in the final few minutes of the film. While it’s pointless in retrospect, it’s effective at the time; this isn’t meant to be art, it’s meant to thrill you. It’s not grindhouse, it’s not anywhere close to grindhouse; this is pulp cinema. Two very different things. Nispel directs his cast with little more than what I could imagine to be “Take your shirt off and scream,” and though the film as a whole is a stuttering, misogynistic mess, that’s where the brilliance lies.
It’s hard to notice at first, but take a look back on it with a Darwinian eye and tell me that Nispel doesn’t have a handle on the primal nature of his film. His characters are broad animals and he treats them as such. The alpha males and their female subordinates are subjected to natural selection at its most brutal, but the most interesting part of the entire subject is watching those theories be shredded, almost like a machete was taken to them. Nispel takes Darwin by the throat as if to say, “look at it this way.”
Briefly, the film is about a group of kids coming to Camp Crystal Lake (which, after years of murders and disappearances, is miraculously open to the public), and getting picked off one by one. The film opens in 1980, the year of the first film’s release, and the young, but still dead-ish, Jason Vorhees (Caleb Guss) watches his mother (Nana Visitor) get decapitated by the surviving camp counselor from the first film (Stephanie Rhodes). Obviously, he’s upset. Flash-forward about thirty years later and a group of teens are traveling to the camp for a vacation, and to find some pot that’s been hidden in the woods for them (yes, that’s their actual plotline). The film could be a considered an anti-drug PSA. The kids are Wade (Jonathan Sadowski), Richie (Ben Feldman), Mike (Nick Mennell), Whitney (Amanda Righetti), and Amanda (America Olivo). The grown-up Jason (Derek Mears) shows up and kills all of them, except Whitney. Why? Because she reminds him of his mother. Aw. Also, because we still have an hour to go with the rest of the film, so we need a hook.
The hook is that Whitney’s brother Clay (Jared Padalecki) comes to the rescue, on his moped, looking for her. He’s dismissed as a town crazy (every town has one in films like these), then meets a new group of vacationers. This is merely six weeks after the disappearance of the aforementioned campers, but, of course, no one graduating high school reads newspapers anymore. What a silly assumption to make. Clay makes friends with one of the female campers, and together they look for clues as to what happened, without knowing that Jason has her, and he wants to keep her. People start dying ridiculous deaths, and homage after homage is paid to the series.
The screenplay is appropriately sterile, paying its respects to the pulp horror classics of yesteryear, and its performers know exactly what they’re supposed to do. They’re all awful, every single one of them, but it’s such a pitch-perfect throwback to ’80s horror, it’s hard for me to say any one of them did a bad job. After the direction, screenplay and actors, though, is where my praise for the film stops. The score by Steve Jablonsky is horrendously overblown and painfully overused, the entire film feels as if it were shot on perforated paper and edited with glue, and its sound? If I ever see it again and I can hear myself think, I’ll be amazed. It’s obvious they put more care into the pre-production and production than into the post-production, maybe hoping the film’s strengths would carry the rest of the weight behind. Such is not the case.
As 50/50 as the film is, though, I have to give it up to Nispel and crew for sending a huge tingle down my spine. When Jason discovers the goalie mask, I felt like cheering for joy. It was like Christmas morning for a horror buff. Some of the people in my audience clapped and whistled, proving that the beast can be a hell of a lot more interesting and popular than the beauty he’s chasing. When the inevitable sequel is made, I hope they keep pop culture in mind long enough to not ruin the good intentions of this film, or the unabashed brilliance of the original. Neither Jason nor the late Mrs. Voorhees would be pleased.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com