Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy
Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer
Freddy Krueger Reborn
For those of you who merely hear the name Samuel Bayer and are instantly transformed to a place of grunge-like ecstasy, watching the director of such transformative music videos as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Green Day's Jesus of Suburbia and a host of deliriously wonderful others, watching Bayer essentially get his Hollywood breakthrough tackling this Jackie Earle Haley led remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street may very well be one gigantic letdown in virtually every sense of the word.
Seldom has it felt more true that both the director and the lead actor in a film were capable of so much more than what is captured on the big screen, but such is definitely the case in this disappointingly formulaic and far too paint-by-numbers remake of the sorta icon of the mid-80's pop horror cinema.
No one in their right mind considers 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street masterful movie making. It's not, but it did kick in a rather noteworthy horror trend of blending slick imagery, beautiful teens, dark humor and a sort of cookie-cutter approach to horror films that was formulaic mainly because audiences bought into it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street feels, on a certain level, much like the Vince Vaughn led Psycho remake from Gus Van Sant that was so completely a note for note remake that it lacked any sense of purpose or its own calling card. It's hard not to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street without muttering to yourself "Why?"
Taking over the role of Freddy Krueger is Jackie Earle Haley, whose career experienced a rebirth following his Oscar-nominated turn in Little Children and his appearance as Rorschach in Watchmen. It's easy to see why Haley would tackle the memorable character, even beyond the obvious payday nature of the film and that inner voice that inevitably goes "Hey, it's work." Yet, as "right" as Haley might have felt for the film, he either needs a stronger director to help him give a character a unique voice or, much as was true for Vince Vaughn, he's simply too limited as an actor to tackle a role that is so firmly planted in the hearts and minds of the American cinematic psyche'. Haley isn't particularly bad here, he's just sadly rather one-note and forgettable.
Director Samuel Bayer, who at first thought seems ideal for a project that mixes mood, mayhem and a sort of merry mirth, never quite makes the film his own either. Yes, there are a few anxious jumps and scares here and there and, yes, there are a few decent one-liners courtesy of co-writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, but it all seems to add up to something that instantly vacates the mind once one has left the theatre.
Much like Rob Zombie's Halloween revisit, A Nightmare on Elm Street gives us a bit of Freddy's back story, a welcome addition to the entire affair that could have, and should have, added a depth to the goings on and given the story itself a certain emotional resonance. Unlike Halloween, however, it doesn't work here. Rather than feeling any sort of bond with or having an understanding for Freddy, much of Nightmare on Elm Street elicits a sort of shoulder shrug response to everything that Freddy does.
We're only a few minutes into the film when the first pretty teen is promptly dispatched, and most of A Nightmare on Elm Street follows the same pattern of "cue music, hear Freddy's clanging and...ruh-roh, teenager dead." It all feels sort of, well, it actually doesn't feel like much of anything. It all just sort of happens.
All the pretty young adults are functional here, neither the laughably bad shriekers we're accustomed to in this glamorized Hollywood horror fare nor exhibiting anything resembling actual acting skill. They simply do what they are called upon to do, which ain't exactly much.
It ultimately comes back to the "Why?" question, and it's difficult to peg a decent answer to the question beyond Hollywood's complete and utter lack of imagination and a disturbing lack of originality in screenplays these days. A Nightmare on Elm Street adds almost nothing to the Freddy Krueger catalogue other than reminding everyone just what an distinct cinematic voice Wes Cravens actually possessed and just how good Robert Englund actually was in the lead role. Samuel Bayer, it would seem, is certainly no Wes Cravens and, sadly, Jackie Earle Haley is neither Robert Englund nor Freddy Krueger.
A Nightmare on Elm Street? Not so much...it's more like a bad dream in Hollywood.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic