TGIF13 – Day Twelve: Friday the 13th (2009)

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If there’s one word that can sum up the horror genre in the 2000’s, it’s “remakes.” After the 2003 and 2004 remakes of Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were more successful than anyone expected, both financially and among the horror community, Hollywood went remake crazy, and soon nearly every popular horror property from the ’70s and ’80s was being dusted off for a new “re-imagining.” This, of course, was a perfect avenue for the Friday the 13th series to explore. Following adventures in space and a cartoonish battle with Freddy Krueger, there were many who felt it was time for the franchise to return to its roots, and starting over from scratch seemed like a perfect way to do just that, without having to worry about any pre-existing continuity or previous interpretations of the Jason character. But did the new Friday actually do the original series justice? Read on to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

FRIDAY THE 13th (2009)

Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Screenplay by: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
Story by: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, & Mark Wheaton

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THE PLOT

A group of five friends go camping near the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. One of them regales the others with a campfire tale of the place’s sordid past – that a woman went on a killing spree there after her son apparently drowned, and that her son then supposedly came back to seek revenge following her murder. What seems like a harmless tale soon proves to be deadly reality, however, as the group is soon under attack from a masked maniac.

Six weeks later, the kids have still not been found. Clay Miller, the brother of one of the girls, heads to Crystal Lake to conduct his own investigation. He eventually meets a group of friends partying at a local summer-home. One of the girls, Jenna, is sympathetic to his cause, and joins him on his search. But they could have never expected what they do find – that the legend of Jason Voorhees is very real, and that they and Jenna’s friends are now the latest targets in Jason’s unending quest for vengeance.

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MY THOUGHTS:

Remake. Reboot. Re-imagining. Whatever. Let’s just call it what it is – a new Friday the 13th movie. It doesn’t need to be any more complex than that.

Apparently, not everyone agrees. At the time of its release, there was a fair bit of criticism that the new movie didn’t do enough to re-invent the series…that it didn’t bring anything substantially new to the table. Many even complained the new version was nothing more than a cynical, formulaic cash-grab aimed only at lowest-common-denominator horror fans. This begs the question – just what movie did these reviewers think they were going to see?

That it would receive an overwhelming amount of negative press reviews is no surprise. Most so-called “mainstream” critics have never been comfortable with these kinds of movies. They are unwilling to admit that there is just as much a place for slasher films as there is for more thought-provoking horror fare like Let the Right One In or 28 Days Later. They refuse to acknowledge the primal level these films tend to work on. And it kills them (not literally) that these movies are so successful.

It’s really no more shocking that many of the film’s detractors would, in fact, be die-hard horror fans. A large portion of the genre fanbase is nothing if not predictable in its tendency to overreact and cry outrage anytime one of the beloved “classics” is remade. Why would this time be any different?

In the case of the 2009 Friday, director Marcus Nispel and the entire Platinum Dunes team faced a somewhat un-winnable situation. Tweak with the established Friday mythology too much, and you would be lambasted for it. But just stick with good-old-fashioned familiarity, and you’ll still be met with an equal amount of disapproval.

Let’s face it…there was no possible way to win over all the fans here. This is a series that has been both reality-based and supernatural; that has taken place in the forest and in outer space, that has presented its villain as both a silent stalker and a mystical being that can transfer his soul from body to body. No matter how strange or dumb any one of those ideas might seem, they each have their supporters who believe it was the best direction the series ever took. No new movie was going to satisfy everyone.

Still, I personally believe the 2009 Friday the 13th should please most fans of the series…particularly those that, like me, have never approached these movies with any sort of unnecessary pressure or unrealistic expectations. At the end of the day, all I want from a Friday the 13th movie is a fun waste of 90 or so minutes. So I’m happy to report, that’s exactly what this movie delivers. Go ahead and call me easy to please, or accuse me of making excuses for an obviously dumb movie. I don’t care. If you’re the one going to see the twelfth Friday the 13th movie and complaining that it’s not “deep,” then you’re the problem.

If you are willing to go along with it and just have a good time, however, there’s quite a bit to like about the film. For instance, I loved the opening scene, which cleverly condenses the entire Mrs. Voorhees/Jason origin story down to about a minute of screen-time. That’s all it needs, really. There’s probably a joke to be made regarding how the entire plot of the original movie can be boiled down to just a minute…but, once again, nobody ever accused the thing of being complex.

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The rest of the pre-title sequence is pretty damn excellent, as well. In fact, it easily tops Part VI for the honor of best opening sequence in series history. It’s admirable for a film of this kind to introduce a group of kids and effectively fool the audience into believing these might be the main characters, only to wipe them out and start over, twenty minutes later. Of course, this only works if the viewer isn’t already familiar with who the “real” stars are, but still…we spend just enough time with this opening group to start getting really comfortable with them and then, WHAM! They’re gone. Great stuff. If you don’t feel a little surge of excitement when the title finally appears onscreen after this sequence, then you’re probably not the right audience for this movie anyway.

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If the film has a major flaw, it’s that the rest of it never quite lives up to the strength of that opener. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of memorable moments that follow, but nothing that really hits on the same visceral level as that first massacre. This can at least be partly attributed to the fact that the characters staying at the house are, as a whole, nowhere near as entertaining as the opening campers. Sure, Travis Van Winkle is pretty amusing as Trent, the shameless asshole (essentially reprising his role as Megan Fox’s boyfriend from Transformers), but the rest of the group is pretty generic and forgettable – even with both a token black guy and token Asian guy.

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Of course, to grumble that victims in a Friday the 13th movie are one-note would be somewhat akin to complaining that Jurassic Park has too many dinosaurs. It just comes with the territory. Returning writers Shannon & Swift (going for a much different tone than their last outing with Freddy Vs. Jason) are wise enough to know who their real star attraction is, and thus don’t waste any time developing rich and complex back-stories for characters that will just end up dead in a few minutes anyway.

The exception, naturally, is the film’s “hero,” Clay. Jared Padalecki is pretty good in the role…he’s likable enough, clearly has the “rugged” part down, and definitely brings a certain level of expertise to the character. After all, he’s been fighting demons for years on Supernatural…he should be able to give Jason a run for his money, right?

Friday The 13th

Meanwhile, both Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker are serviceable enough in the two lead female roles. None of these characters are as interesting as Jason, obviously, but they serve their purpose, and aren’t so intolerable that you’ll be looking at your watch whenever they’re on the screen. That’s usually all you can ask for in movies like this.

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And, ah yes, there is Jason. As portrayed by Jason first-timer Derek Mears, this is a newly redesigned model of the classic character. A lot of how you feel about this new take on Friday the 13th will undoubtedly depend on your opinion of the changes made here. Yeah, the basics are all intact – he’s still a retarded mongoloid with mommy issues, killing to avenge her death. But there are obvious differences, as well. Besides the change to a fast, living Jason (which is really more of a throwback to the original four films than anything new), this Jason is a bit more clever than usual – setting traps for his victims, employing an underground tunnel system to aid in his hunt…heck, he’s even managed to rig his hide-out with electricity!

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Admittedly, a couple of these changes take a moment to get used to, and some of them seem to have crept in from other franchises – his apparent foraging of past victim’s goods, for example, feels more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than it does Friday the 13th (that Nispel also helmed Platinum Dune’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake probably adds to that perception). But c’mon, this was the twelfth Friday movie…changing things up a little certainly wasn’t the worst idea at the time.

All in all, none of Jason’s newer aspects diminish the overall impact of the character – he’s still a brutal, remorseless killing machine. And while some fans might bristle at the idea of Jason keeping a girl prisoner rather than just killing her, the movie actually does a decent job justifying the logic of it. In fact, it’s kind of a natural progression from the moment in Part 2 where Jason believes Ginny to be his mother simply because she puts on her old sweater.

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To be sure, there are a few stumbles along the way here, but that’s certainly nothing new to the series. Like many of its predecessors, this one has its fair share of problems, most notably a fairly underwhelming final act. Not only was the climactic confrontation with Jason not as exciting as I would have hoped, but the film’s final “jump,” while appropriate, is somewhat undermined by the fact that you spend the entire last minute waiting for it. Or, at least, you do if you’re familiar with the series.

And while I’m not sure this will be that big of a deal to most viewers, I’d still like to note that there is surprisingly little usage of the series’ signature “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” musical sting. Not sure what the thinking was there…maybe they simply expected the fans to happily add in their own. Thankfully, though, the film’s score is quite effective, even if missing that classic beat.

All in all, though, I really dig this movie. No, it’s not a stunning re-invention of the franchise, but that’s not really what I wanted from it, either. To me, the 2009 Friday the 13th is nothing more than a chance to re-establish Jason’s place atop the horror genre, and to bring a more slick, modern film-making approach (and obviously a higher budget and production values) to the series. To that end, it succeeds quite well. It might not have all the charm of the better early entries, but it does Jason and Crystal Lake proud.

If you think it’s not enough like the original films, go watch those instead. If you’re upset that it’s not a prestigious, intelligent re-working of the story, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree anyway. But if you’re looking for a well-directed, modern day Friday film that updates the series while at the same time staying true to the original, sleazier elements that made us fall in love with the franchise in the first place, you’re in luck. Forget the naysayers who want to hate it just because it’s new, or because Michael Bay’s name is in the credits. I think this is one “remake” that gets it.

BODY COUNT: 14

During production, the filmmakers were adamant the film would contain 13 kills. This is true, if you’re only counting Jason’s kills. Throw in Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation, howevere, and you have a grand total of 14. As for the quality of the kills, I have no complaints. From what I’ve seen, some fans seem to think this film’s deaths were not as outrageous as they should have been. I don’t know…perhaps those folks were spoiled by the admittedly more over-the-top blood-letting of things like My Bloody Valentine 3D. But then, that was a movie intentionally ridiculous in just about every way. The deaths in the 2009 Friday the 13th fit the tone the movie is going for – appropriately quick and brutal. Could there have been a little more blood? Sure…but we’ve still come a long way from the days of MPAA-eviscerated Friday films, and personally, I like what I saw.

BEST KILL:

This is actually a tough call. On one hand, I love the machete to the head of the girl hiding under the dock, culminating in a nice visual gag that you could say just about sums up the entire Friday the 13th franchise. But I think I have to give the award to the sleeping bag death…no, not the classic sleeping bag death. Although many fans at the time, myself included, were wondering if the new film would replicate that beloved moment, it turns out the new Jason had something completely different in mind for his sleeping bag victim. Forget just smashing her against a tree – how about hanging the sleeping bag, with girl inside, over a raging fire…thus allowing said girl to slowly cook to death? That, my friends, is cold-blooded (or hot-blooded, as the case may be), and also a perfect example of the “new” Jason. I just can’t picture the original series Jason bothering with something so elaborate.

BOOB COUNT: 6

Another thing the Platinum Dunes team promised was to bring back the nudity that some of the later entries were kinda skimping on. Well, I think it’s safe to say they delivered. True, a count of six might sound comparable to many of the other films, but it’s important to note that when girls get topless in this movie, they tend to stay topless for awhile. Also, the number goes up to eight if you choose to include a nudie magazine that gets a pretty decent close-up…but I have higher standards than that.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

Eh, this one is a little iffy. There is a crotchety old lady that Clay visits, and she certainly seems to have an idea of what’s really going on around the area. But she never really warns him to stay away, thus somewhat neglecting her “crazy old coot” duty. For shame…

NITPICK PATROL:

By essentially starting the series over, this movie gets something of a free pass regarding the usual continuity errors that have plagued the franchise since the beginning. And yet, it still manages to slip right into some of the same ole head-scratchers.

For instance, while condensing Jason’s origin was a good call in terms of moving the narrative along, it still ended up making the whole story just as confusing as ever. So, he didn’t actually drown? Was he just chilling in the woods for that entire year his mom was plotting her revenge? Of course, this didn’t make any sense when they first revived Jason back in Part 2, so at least it’s consistent that it doesn’t make any sense now, either.

Also, if Jason has been living in the area all this time, why hasn’t he killed off more of the townspeople? It’s definitely not a case of him targeting only outsiders – the movie clearly shows he has no problem taking out the locals, as well. Then again, the local he goes after did first wander into the area where Jason lives, and only then did Jason follow him (in fact, it’s even mentioned that the locals simply know to stay out of his territory and leave him alone, a plot idea I quite liked). Speaking of that, does anyone else kinda get the feeling that Jason planted that weed that so many of the characters were after? It’s the perfect way to lure teens and college kids, after all. Perhaps that’s the ultimate lesson of this new Friday the 13th – don’t mess with Jason’s stash.

FINAL SCORE: 3 out of 4 Hockey Masks

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Well, that’s it…at least until the next Friday the 13th comes along. Even though I’m not thrilled with the idea of it being a Found Footage entry (ugh), you can still bet I’ll review it. Till then, for those of you who are curious, here is my own personal ranking of the Friday the 13th series. This is my list, not yours. Feel free to mock or criticize – but hey, opinions are like assholes, and all that.

  1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
  2. Freddy vs Jason
  3. Friday the 13th Part 2
  4. Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter
  5. Friday the 13th (2009)
  6. Jason X
  7. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  8. Friday the 13th (1980)
  9. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
  10. Friday the 13th Part 3
  11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
  12. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
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About Trevor Snyder

Give me zombies or give me death. Wait...that doesn't make sense.

Posted on November 15, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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