“One, two, a Nightmare remake was overdue,
Three, four, but it’s something to abhor,
Five, six, you should not mess with the classics,
Seven, eight, Michael Bay’s movies are dead weight,
Nine, ten, don’t watch horror remakes again.”
Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company have so far produced remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher and Friday the 13th, so it was only a matter of time before they tackled A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, what should have been the best remake of the bunch (considering the legacy, characters, themes and ideas of the series) is instead a motion picture with no purpose, rhythm or heart. Music video director Samuel Bayer and the duo of screenwriters simply recreated a few famous scenes from the original Nightmare on Elm Street and positioned them in the midst of a barely-cohesive narrative surrounded by subpar acting, dull characters, uneven pacing, generic atmosphere, and a Freddy Krueger who looks more like a deformed space alien. Wes Craven’s original film was a chilling, creative horror flick concerned with female empowerment, but this remake/reimagining is a standard slasher picture with tragically watered-down character nuance.
In the film, teenager Dean (Lutz) begins complaining of visions of a badly burned figure stalking him in his dreams, but his claims are dismissed as side effects of his medication. However, when he appears to kill himself at a roadside diner, Dean’s friends begin to suspect that he may not have been so crazy after all. Soon, a bunch of local teens find that they, too, are all being hunted by a horribly burned, disfigured slasher named Freddy Krueger (Haley) who’s armed with razor-sharp blades lining his right-hand glove. If Freddy kills you in your sleep, you die for real. With the neighbourhood parents seemingly withholding information regarding Freddy’s true identity, Nancy (Mara) and her friend Quentin (Gallner) set out on their own; desperate to stay awake while hunting for the reason as to why Freddy is pursuing them.
Despite what you may believe, Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street was more about Nancy than Freddy. Nancy was the central focus, while Krueger was the demon in the background that motivated events without being at their centre. Unfortunately, because Krueger developed into such a recognisable figure across the ’80s and ’90s, he was allotted a more prominent role in this new version. Alas, greater exposure diminishes Freddy’s impact. It’s also worth noting that A Nightmare on Elm Street is not a franchise that will take to a reboot easily. Much of the appeal of the original film was rooted in its ’80s, identity, from the virginal valour of the protagonists to the safety and protection of the suburban setting which Freddy penetrated with joy. This is 2010, and things have changed. To be fair to the film, though, it’s not explicitly a remake of the 1984 picture – the thrust of the story in this version veers away from the original, and it openly questions Freddy’s guilt while portraying the adult characters as possibly villainous rather than manically overprotective.
Director Samuel Bayer has an impressive résumé of music videos, and was personally recruited by Michael Bay for the project. Unfortunately, Bayer was considerably more concerned with refining the visuals of the film than adequately developing the characters or helping the actors bring them to life in a convincing fashion. A Nightmare on Elm Street hastily sprints into conflict without developing the community of characters or even offering so much as a hello. In particular, Nancy gets the shaft in terms of characterisation. While this new Nightmare on Elm Street is visually appealing and thus fairly enjoyable from start to finish, the film is unable to sustain momentum or create enough genuine tension. There’s no reason to care about the one-dimensional caricatures which are passed off as the heroes, and consequently there’s no emotional kick or any nail-biting Freddy attack scenes.
For a reimagining, 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is disastrously low on creativity, too. Most detrimental is the lack of genuinely memorable kills and gore in general – the kills are all workmanlike and unremarkable. This is especially unforgivable considering that even the weakest Nightmare sequels boasted a few creative scenarios. Additionally, several iconic images and moments from the 1984 film were recreated here, but these only serve to provide the movie with a frequent “been there, done that” feel. They also seem cold and routine, and, while slick in appearance, they are less impressive than the practical effects used in Craven’s original. In the original, the image of Freddy appearing out of the wall above Nancy’s bed was achieved practically. In this 2010 version, the image was achieved with obvious-looking digital effects, and it weakens the impact. The filmmakers behind A Nightmare on Elm Street clearly banked on making money by capitalising on the name and general appearance of Craven’s film, but neglected to replicate the underlying spirit that made the original picture such a genre classic.
In terms of acting, the standout is Jackie Earle Haley who delivered a suitably intense performance as Freddy. Fortunately, it does not feel like a simple retread of Robert Englund’s work in the role – it’s a laudable interpretation, and his voice is menacing. However, the make-up is unimpressive – Haley looks vaguely reptilian, like an old man with a bad skin condition. Apparently the aim was to make Freddy resemble a real burn victim, but why is “reality” important in a movie which deals so forcefully in dreams?
As for Rooney Mara as Nancy, the actress is awful; mumbling her lines and transforming the role into a mopey wuss. Mara conjures up no sense of personality or bafflement – she simply stares at her equally monotonous co-stars. Kyle Gallner is tolerable as the potential love interest for Mara’s Nancy, but both Kellan Lutz and Katie Cassidy are dreadful in addition to looking far too old to be playing teenagers. Perhaps there’s another Johnny Depp to be found in this cast (Depp was, after all, unimpressive in Craven’s original), but that’s unlikely.
The magic of the original 1984 film was Freddy’s monster status and the way that this hysteria generated a neighbourhood mood of confusion and bewilderment. Bayer’s 2010 reimagining is only interested in the gore shots that Freddy brings, rather than the curse of Freddy. This leads to the ultimate point about the film: it’s watchable, but disposable, unnecessary and unremarkable, and it pales in comparison to the cherished original.