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Friday the 13th (2009) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
I’ll admit it: Jason was always my least favorite slasher. I saw no point to his existence. John Carpenter already gave us a silent and unstoppable killer in Halloween’s Michael Myers. Wes Craven gave us a villain whose very existence brought about the most creative of deaths in Nightmare On Elm St’s Freddy Kreuger. And Sleepaway Camp did everything that Friday the 13th did, only with far more shock value. So why even have Jason around? Regardless of my impeccable logic, the hockey-masked killer blazed his way through eleven (9 if you don’t count his brief cameo in the original, and the fact that it was a copycat in the fourth installment) films before finally running out of steam. By the time we got what seemed like the final Jason film, Freddy vs. Jason, Mr. Voorhees had become such a bloated parody that even his long-time fans had trouble stomaching the crossover gimmick.

Enter Michael Bay. Through his Platinum Dunes production company, Bay has been responsible for updating several major horror franchises with remakes and reboots. Now it’s time for Friday the 13th. The plot is fairly predictable. In a 15 minute pre-title sequence, we get some back story on Jason, who then shows up in person to lay the smack down. Then the film proper starts, with Clay (Jared Padalecki) looking for his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), one of the campers from the beginning of the flick. He happens to cross paths with a group of college students vacationing in a house in the woods right near, you guessed it, the former site of Camp Crystal Lake. As you would expect, Clay eventually comes upon Jason, who chases him back to the house, and mayhem ensues. I imagine it would be a difficult task to update Jason Voorhees, who has gone through so much during the various Friday films that there really seems to be no place left to go (the man went both to Hell and to space, for heaven’s sake). In this case, filmmaker Marcus Nispel (he of the fitfully successful but wholly unnecessary Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) decided to take Jason back to his roots: the woods. And I must say, despite the fact that Jason is my least favorite serial slasher, for at least half the movie, the trick works. Taking the exact opposite route of Rob Zombie’s Halloween redo, Nispel condenses the history of the character into just a few minutes before letting the carnage get underway.

Nispel does a good job of setting up character dynamics and drilling in the tension. The first group of kids all get killed in grisly and imaginative ways, including one sleeping bag death that had me squirming in my seat. Things stay suitably tense until Jason follows Clay back to the house. At this point, the movie loses the thread, dropping any pretense of suspense in favor of the kind of generic kills we’ve seen in any subpar Friday entry (and seriously, stop pulling the lame trick of having a character hear something in a dark corner, finding nothing, only to have Jason suddenly appear from behind them). The final third takes an even worse turn, dropping out characters we did care about for characters we don’t, and the end result is just boring.

Friday the 13th (the first film in the series to feature the Friday title since the eighth picture) doesn’t forget to include all the genre staples. T&A abounds, and some of the kills are really fantastic. The movie also has some truly quotable lines (one definitely intentional, the others probably not) and memorable set pieces. On the other hand, at times the picture feels too tied to the hallmarks of the series, especially in the dreadful and unneeded ending. I can’t fault Nispel and his writers for wanting to keep the audience in a certain comfort zone, but in doing so, they end up crafting a picture that feels too familiar. What’s the point in remaking Friday the 13th if you aren’t going to take any chances with it? Why not just make another straight-up Friday sequel? Sure, by this point in the original series, Jason was a space cyborg. But given how slavishly this movie sticks to the conventions laid down before it, can that fate be so far away for Jason Voorhees 2.0?

I will give credit where credit is due: Friday the 13th is half a great slasher film. It has a raw visceral intensity for about an hour or so, until Nispel and company lose the thread. But half a good Friday movie is already better than most of the series’ sequels, so that alone makes it worth seeing. Preferably in a crowded theater full of shrieking teens. I just hope that as this movie gives way to an inevitable wave of sequels, they don’t degenerate into unwatchable dreck as quickly as this picture suggests they might.

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