FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009, directed by Marcus Nispel, 97 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
Friday the 13th is the highest-grossing horror franchise in film history, banking over half a billion adjusted dollars. As successful as the films have been, Friday The 13th has been mocked, derided and dismissed, even by gorehounds, as a series that has been prey to the whim of its producers and never the brainchild of a auteur genre director like George Romero or John Carpenter. If none of the Friday the 13th films is a masterpiece, it is the core elements of the series that account for its success; the “Ki-Ki-Ki Ma-Ma-Ma” sounds of HarryManfredini ‘s score, the iconic image of the weathered hockey mask and the sheer mathematical symmetry of taking a set amount of handsome young folks and subtracting them one-by-one with a machete.
Part of the series’ loping charm was that as long as it delivered a the guy with the mask killing kids to the “Ki-Ki-Ki Ma-Ma-Ma” sound, audiences kept showing up. The film’s casually ludicrous plots were part of theirpunky attitude: who can worry about plot continuity when you’re dealing with psychic teens, Jason in an orbiting space station or a pre-teen CoreyFeldman possessed by evil? It is that anarchic spirit that’s missing from this well-mounted, highly competent new “rebooting” of the Friday The 13th series; at the age of twenty-nine Hollywood has decided to end Jason’s perpetual adolescence and to take their investment seriously. As you may expect, it is goodbye reckless youth, hello frustrating adulthood.
Produced with that burnished sheen we’ve come to respect from producer Michael Bay, Friday The 13th gives us a well-acted, finely disciplined retelling of the events of the first three or four films. We recap Mrs. Voorhees’ murders, we see the rise of Jason and we watch him don the hockey mask for the first time. They soft pedal the “Ki-Ki-Ki Ma-Ma-Ma” sound but yep, that’s in there too. Young folks should be warned: of course Jason will ram a fireplace poker through you if he catches you having sex but now smoking reefer calls for capital punishment as well.
Director Marcus Nispel (who helmed a similar updating of the Texas Chainsaw franchise in 2003) lines up the campers and Jason hacks them down into a nice tidy pile, and as history shows, that’s probably enough for its audience to go home happy. Still, you can’t help but feel like it might have been the cheapness that was holding the whole enterprise together, a perverse alchemy supplied by spotty acting, preposterous plot turns and rubbery fake heads. By binding it in leather and pruning it down to it “essence” this attempted revival ends up revealing just how scrawny the legendary Jason really is.