14 Feb

Hands off Jason’s weed. Friday the 13th.

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday February 14, 2009 | Reviews

friday the 13th remakeIf you search this site for early mentions of this remake, I’m sure I spared no opportunity to slag this movie off and dismiss the whole thing. I live under the illusion that I keeps it real but as time passed, I began to warm up to the idea of a Friday the 13th remake and even found some pretty novel ways to come to terms with the fact that I was okay with a remake. But I wasn’t just okay with a remake, I was okay with a remake of one of my all time favorite movies.  This would be like me suddenly thinking that a remake of Escape From New York starring Gerard Butler was okay. This is a big shift in policy for me. By the time it was go-time for Friday the 13th, and the waiting was over, I was downright giddy.

One, I hadn’t been to the movies, an actual movie at a movie theater, in forever.  Go back on all my recent movie reviews. They’re all DVDs. Two, I hadn’t been this excited for a movie since Episode 1 only I hoped Friday the 13th would fare better than that one; and three, I hadn’t seen a Friday movie theatrically since Jason Goes To Hell.

Now that the wait is over and I’ve seen the movie, I feel like I can go back to my regularly scheduled life. As much as I love Friday the 13th, between the three Paramount Deluxe editions, scrounging for news, listening to the Manfredini scores and His Name Was Jason, I feel like I’ve saturated my life with the man in the hockey mask. The sheer weight of the excitement was beginning to leave me feeling fatigued. I just didn’t know how much longer I could keep up this level of energy. So I’m sure many of you are wondering, how did it stack up? Was it worth all the hype? Was it any good? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is yes to all of those questions.

We begin in 1980. Pamela Voorhees chases an unnamed girl through the woods blaming her for the death of her son, Jason, but the final girl turns the tables and hacks off Mrs. Voorhees’ head with a machete. In the closing seconds of the scene, a child emerges from the forest and retrieves Mrs. Voorhees’ locket as her disembodied voice commands him to kill. Flash to the present. Five victims-to-be hit the Jersey woods for some camping while two of them plan to raid a crop of pot that is supposed to be out in the woods somewhere. During the inevitable debauchery of just such a scene, they’re attacked by a hulking man wearing a bag on his head. All are killed. Or are they? Flash forward six months, more retarded college kid victims roll out to Crystal Lake for sex, booze and weed while Clay looks for his sister, Whitney, one of the girls from the previously seen group of kids, presumed dead. It’s not long before they step out of bounds and into Jason’s territory and become dead bodies.

What Nispel has done with his Friday the 13th is clearly illustrate precisely how shallow the Friday series is by taking the first three features and distilling them down to their most important parts. He then uses these parts to craft an original feature with original ideas without compromising the original’s fabric. This is very much a Friday the 13th movie and not so much a remake. Had it been released in place of parts 2, 3 or 4, it would have fit easily into the series and been one of the better entries.

It begins with a bang, sparing you no time to get used to the cast at all. The initial five victims get theirs in brutally short order, even taking the violence to an upsetting, distinctly contemporary degree. When you consider that the tame original Friday the 13th required trims to qualify for an R rating, this Friday the 13th features agonizing, explicit gore that lingers on screen a little longer than you might be expecting. A strange characteristic of the early movies was that Jason wasn’t particularly sadistic. True, his kills were brutal, he rarely drew them out for maximum suffering. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie you see a guy squirming around, leg caught in a bear trap while his girlfriend cooks alive in a sleeping bag suspended over the fire. It’s really quite something.

But the film does eventually slow down. Keeping up that pace would have worn out the average viewer and it takes time to weave a story around the kills that is downright sophisticated by Friday the 13th standards. Given this quality, Friday the 13th, the old-timer, could be the movie to put the final nail in Torture Porn’s miserable coffin. Clay’s search for his sister, Whitney, is sympathetic. He’s a character that you don’t want to see die and while finding that sympathetic tone requires a little blind faith on your part, you’re rewarded in the end with a Friday the 13th that maintains the spirit of the series while building a new layer on a very tired franchise.

Jason, of course, is the star of the show and fans have come to hold the franchise icon, Kane Hodder, in high regard, still not having gotten over his rejection from Freddy vs. Jason. But the new Jason, Derek Mears is a worthy heir to the hockey mask and its legacy. Kane has a massive presence and seems to throw his body around for maximum intimidation factor and Mears follows closely in those footsteps. It may be giving the character too much credit but watching a new actor interpret the character can be interesting, like watching someone interpret an abstract work of art. Jason has no spoken lines and a paper thin back story so finding your motivation as the character can be difficult. Some actors have played him out like a bundle of rage but Hodder seemed to find the action that worked in that Jason is more like a hunter than anything else. His kills may have been elaborate, but they always played on nearby implements of opportunity. There was a calculated efficiency and he never seemed to get carried away. Mears very much does the same. Those lamenting the exit of Kane Hodder can rest assured that he has a worthy replacement and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the inevitable sequel, Mears returns as Jason as the new franchise phenom.

It’s hardly a perfect exercise, though. Nispel’s hangup on the grimy aesthetic of the 70’s and early 80’s darkens the picture considerably and he goes out of his way to saturate every scene in browns and blacks. It’s a suitable design for the picture since most of the movie takes place in the forest and around the moldy remains of Camp Crystal Lake but the old production look was often a limitation of budget and technology. Here it looks forced and often dominates the entire picture. Some shots are just too dark to clearly see the action. There are also some suspicious cuts throughout the film that suggest (and recent news of the DVD release confirms) that a portion of the movie was cut out. It isn’t a deal breaker and this missing footage doesn’t seem to take any of the story with it, but they’re clumsy cuts that anyone can recognize.

All gripes aside, though, Marcus Nispel’s remake is probably the first remake I’ve seen that respects the source material and the fans and turns in a product that is every bit as much a reboot as it is a sequel. It’s a remake that is so successful in what it set out to do that I’m actually looking forward to the impending Nightmare on Elm Street reboot. Without exception, Friday the 13th is the most violent in the series, maybe a little too violent at times, and our new Jason is bad motherfucker. Every scene of the movie is loaded with the means of killing and the weapons are sometimes frustratingly neglected (circular saw) but old fans of the series won’t be let down and new viewers will be introduced to the series with a movie that maintains the spirit of the old. I never thought I’d say this, but: Well done, Platinum Dunes.

6 Comments 

  1. February 14, 2009 2:07 pm

    Retroman Steve

    Yup. Great assessment as always Bryan. I saw the early show last night and while there was plenty of little nitpicks the overall experience was a fun brutal slasher that stayed true to the Friday the 13th series. Interesting how they easily condensed storylines from multiple stories that goes to show how repetitive the movie series had become by combining them into a single film. I agree some missed opportunities with a few more creative kills that I was anticipating. Also the film still had that Michael Bay stylishness and a few too close up jerky camera work in a few scenes that was a bit distracting. I think I would have prepared to see a bit more of the 80’s storyline where the summer camp was still open to have a bit more nostalgic envisioning to it giving more of a root of Jason as he become the survivalist that he is in the film. My only question is does Jason actually sell the weed or is that old lady at the house his dealer? Hey he has to pay his electric bill somehow for his underground lair.

  2. February 14, 2009 2:31 pm

    Bryan White

    One of my favorite aspects of the movie that I completely neglect to mention (so I’ll mention here) was how often you got a good look at Jason. They even gave him close-ups. Back in the day, Jason’s identity was closely guarded until the end of the movie but here you get to see him right off the bat. They don’t tease you about what he looks like like the old movies do.

    I was also surprised that ***SPOILER ALERT*** ***SPOILER ALERT*** You never get a good look at him without the mask on. Every Jason sequel had that shocker moment in the third act when the mask comes off and we see his face, but here you only get the quickest, most obscured glimpse as they dumped his body into the lake. Interesting…

  3. February 14, 2009 3:24 pm

    Jeremy Couturier

    It was funny to read the reviews for this yesterday. I imagine they were not unlike the reviews first for the Friday way back in the day. So the more things change…yada yada…
    Assuming this a moneymaker and it should be, I hope they take an opportunity to add something new to the franchise in future installments. I imagine the condensed storylines were a wise choice to ease the next generation of fans into the series. So it would be intersesting to see if they can have some fun with this new lean and mean Jason. Overall not a bad job, lotsa boobies and brutality…the perfect slasher combination with a slick yet grimy sheen.

  4. February 14, 2009 3:26 pm

    Jeremy Couturier

    and yes, I knew Mr. Vorhees had to be a midnight toker… that would explain the violent mood swings.

  5. February 16, 2009 1:16 pm

    thebonebreaker

    Great Review Bryan!
    You said, “It’s not long before they step out of bounds and into Jason’s territory and become dead bodies.” That is hilarious!! :-)

    While I too enjoyed this one, I am still not looking forward to the Nightmare on Elm Street Re-Make ~ Ugh!

    Also, we got a pretty good [albeit slightly dark] look at Jason’s face in the attic of the barn [right before he obtained the hockey mask]

  6. February 16, 2009 4:27 pm

    larry

    We’re on the same page on this one–this was a solid entry in the “Friday” franchise, and I think Nispel and Platinum Dunes as a whole finally got a remake right this time around. My only quibbles were with the music (re-watching the first two “Friday” flicks over the weekend, I was struck at how big a part Manfredini’s score was), which distracted quite a bit from the action on screen and some of the script’s choices–I didn’t groove too much on the idea that Jason’s spent the last 30 years building underground tunnels and setting up floodlights all around the camp, but that’s minor stuff. (Although, the question still lingers–who does that massive weed crop belong to, anyway). Overall, it was good stuff.


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