Friday the 13th (2009)
Director : Marcus Nispel
Screenplay : Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (story by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift and Mark Wheaton; based on characters created by Victor Miller)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Jared Padalecki (Clay Miller), Danielle Panabaker (Jenna), Amanda Righetti (Whitney Miller), Travis Van Winkle (Trent), Aaron Yoo (Chewie), Derek Mears (Jason Voorhees), Jonathan Sadowski (Wade), Julianna Guill (Bree), Ben Feldman (Richie), Arlen Escarpeta (Lawrence), Ryan Hansen (Nolan), Willa Ford (Chelsea), Nick Mennell (Mike), America Olivo (Amanda), Kyle Davis (Donnie), Richard Burgi (Officer Bracke)
With virtually every other horror franchise from the 1970s and 1980s being given a hyper-stylized reboot in recent years, it was only a matter of time before the hockey-masked slasher Jason Voorhees was resurrected (again) for a 21st-century reimagining of Friday the 13th. When the original was released in 1980, it caused no end of consternation for critics, parents, and media watchdogs who couldn’t understand why otherwise normal kids would want to revel in mindless hackings and slashings. Thirty years later, there is apparently still a strong appetite for such fare, so the folks that produced the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, including producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel, have gone back to the well and drug out a new version of incredibly stale material, giving it a modern shine, a little more gore, and pretty much nothing else.
While the screenplay was penned by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who also cowrote the jokey meta-horror smackdownFreddy vs. Jason (2003), this new version of Friday the 13th bears the heavy hand of director Marcus Nispel, who seems to have decided that the best way to reboot the franchise was to cross it with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Hence, we got lots of weird hillbillies and underground lairs filled with rotting detritus and rusty machinery. Without much in the way of original ideas to work with, Nispel and his longtime cinematographer Daniel Pearl seem to have opted for grimy and gritty as a pretense for innovation, not that they don’t also indulge in a few moments of gratuitous silliness, the highlight of which has to be a girl who proves her lack of inhibition by waterskiing topless.
Friday the 13th takes the form of a belated sequel to the first film by Sean S. Cunningham (who also produced this new film) and ignores all the sequels that followed, except when it wants to borrow a motif or idea. It opens with a clumsy recreation of the original’s ending, with Mamma Voorhees losing her head via a Final Girl’s machete and then jumps forward to “the present day” where a group of college kids are hiking through the woods near the infamous and now-shuttered Camp Crystal Lake in search of a hidden marijuana patch (yes, you read that right). They find the pot, alright, but also the hulking specter of Jason Voorhees, who didn’t take kindly to his mother’s demise and is hellbent on slaughtering anyone who treads on his stomping ground. Hence, the film’s first 20 minutes is actually a prologue, setting up the real story to come, which involves yet another group of college kids coming into the same area six weeks later to party at a posh lake house. The house is owned by the parents of Trent (Travis Van Winkle), the group’s resident richboy snob whose arrogant antics are clearly starting to irritate his sweet-natured girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker). They cross paths with Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), a rebel type who is searching for his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who was part of the original group that fell beneath Jason’s blade.
With that basic set-up, the film piles one tired cliché on top of another, borrowing freely from the previous Friday the 13th films in ways that are more lazy than clever (the candle-lit mother shrine from Part 2, the barn from Part 3, etc.). Nispel does manage to develop some tension in the final 15 minutes, when the numbers start dwindling and the stakes get higher, but it’s not enough to make up for how frustratingly rote the opening passages are, not to mention some moments of sheer stupidity (does Jason pay the electric bill for those floodlights he has hooked up in his secret forest lair?). It’s not that we can or should expect too much at this point from any movie with Friday the 13th in the title, but you would at least hope that it would have one or two moments of something approaching inspiration, rather than just a grinding retread of the formulaic and the familiar.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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