A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010, directed by Sam Bayer, 95 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
What could it be but nostalgia that took me to the Riverview theater last night for a 12:01 am screening, losing valuable sleep in order to catch the first showing of Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Bay’s rebooting (oh, I’m starting getting sick of that word) of the long-running horror film series? Seeing the original way back in 1984 was one of my giddiest teen-age movie memories, discovering the character of child killer Fred Krueger with other kids who like me worked at the multiplex mall theater in Christiana, Delaware. My fondness for Wes Craven’s original is probably rooted in that experience but the film cagily tapped some of the primal dread of his notorious Last House on the Left while adding a much more palatable coating of fantasy.
Twenty-six years later, was the movie as fun, was it half as fun, as it was on that spooky and excited night of my youth? Well no, of course not; you can’t go home again nor am I afraid can you go back to Elm Street. If making Freddy wrestle Jason Vorhees of the Friday the 13th series in his last appearance (2003’s Freddy Vs. Jason) wasn’t a sign things have run their course, this cautious and overly-reverent remake withers under the responsibility of not just supplying some creepy scares but of setting the stage for a whole new string of sequels. Much like the re-workings producer Bay has carried out with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street takes the mangy, disreputable spirit of the original and turns it into professionally directed, carefully measured teen fodder. The old series is at turns corny, stupid and crazy but it has never been this boring.
It opens well, inside a dreamy late night diner where a loose-knit group of teens sit at nearby booth, slowly realizing that they are all being haunted by the same dreams of a mysterious man in a striped sweater. When a few of them die off in deaths modeled after those in the original series, Quentin and Nancy (Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara, as long-in-the-tooth high school students) play sleep-deprived detectives looking to answer the mystery of their connection to this strange Fred Krueger. This gives the one star in the cast, the current madman of choice Jackie Earle Haley, a few scenes of backstory as the pre-burned Fred Krueger, school handyman and ultimately a victim of a lynch mob, once the parents are convinced he has molested their children. In the script by Wesley Strick (screenwriter of Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake), there are echos of deeper ideas: has the parent’s guilty secret come home to roost in their children, who are abusing drugs and self-mutilating to escape their crazy dreams? Is Freddy really guilty of the parent’s accusations? These ideas are dispensed of in the most boring way possible, because this rebooting isn’t the kind of re-imagined work Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale was for Bond or The Dark Knight Returns was for Batman. Instead it is like a re-recorded Greatest Hits, hitting the same notes and playing the same tune, only lacking the surprise and verve of the original rendition, with a restrained direction that eschews modern flash for a flat-footed eighties-like style. Boringly competent and never fun, this new rendition is a Nightmare you’ll easily forget by the morning.