A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) reviewed

The point of a well-intentioned movie remake – at least as I understand it – is to take a popular film that is flawed or dated in some way, and make it “relevant” again for contemporary 21st Century audiences.

The remake should pay tribute to its source material, while attempting to erase its flaws. Most importantly, despite being inherently unoriginal, the remake should display some kind of inventiveness. In the case of remakes in the fantasy and horror genres, this inventiveness typically appears in the form of nifty computer-generated effects that weren’t possible before, and which, when used correctly, immerse the audience more deeply in the movie experience. It’s such a disappointment then, given such obvious goals, and given such obvious potential for crawling beneath viewers’ skins, that the new A Nightmare on Elm Street is just so damn dull and unimaginative.

Apparently a good chunk of the tedium can be attributed to the filmmakers’ stated decision to return A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 to its sinister, serious roots. Over the course of 8 films in the Elm Street franchise, the film’s scarred, dream-stalking villain Freddy Krueger had become increasingly jokey as opposed to scary. However, in making a tonally dark movie this time around, the filmmakers have forgotten that most important quality: that the finished film should be fun.

As a result, for the vast majority of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the audience couldn’t care less.

A huge part of the problem is the teenagers tormented by Freddy Krueger. Although there’s little wrong with the actors’ performances, the characters aren’t interesting or identifiable at all. They’re emo and dour – especially wannabe artist Nancy (Rooney Mara), the film’s lead. The movie eventually provides a good reason why the high schoolers are so emotionally stunted, but up until that point, the characters have just 3 emotive settings: sad, worried and scared – and as a result they’re not compelling at all.

Frankly, it makes more sense for the teens to start off as normal, happy and socially integrated, before unravelling. Then at least the audience would have a better sense of what the characters risk losing as their paranoia and insomnia worsens. I can’t remember how the characters in the 1984 original were treated, but in the 2010 remake they’re always so miserable that death doesn’t seem that terrible a fate.

Freddy Krueger, for the large part, is given a similarly bland treatment. There’s a brief, intriguing comparison of the character to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but otherwise, for maybe 70 minutes of the film’s hour and a half running time, Freddy is a bog standard horror boogeyman. For the most part new Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley (replacing Robert Englund,) has little to do but stalk around in the shadows, drag his clawed glove across things, and keep popping up right next to the teens.

Speaking of which, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is not frightening at all. The film predominantly relies on predictable jump moments for its scares. This is a massive failing because the entire point of the Elm Street franchise is to link nightmares, with their highly illogical nature, to death. The series is not just another slasher with a mute, unstoppable brute hacking up oversexed teens. Its differentiating feature is that character deaths are creative, based on people’s worst fears (and you can see a few of the more famous series killings here).
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 should be more Final Destination than Friday the 13th, but it’s not. For example, even when Nancy and her friends start micro-sleeping, and the boundaries between dream and reality blur, things remain disappointingly – and boringly – reality-based. All this 21st Century CGI-effects technology at the filmmakers’ disposal and they don’t use it for the nightmare sequences at all! Instead, the heroes find themselves lumbering around dark boiler rooms and vandalised preschool classrooms while the ceiling lights flicker. How terrifying.

The new Nightmare on Elm Street is devoid of moments like Freddy's engorged tongue licking Nancy through a phone mouthpiece, and stairs turning to sludge under the heroine's feet – both of which are unforgettable scenes in the 1984 original.

These many complaints aside, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 isn’t completely irredeemable. The last 20 minutes or so of the film actually make for a pretty entertaining horror movie. This is because the film is finally invested with some energy, there’s a smattering of surreal dream imagery, the maungy teens develop some fighting spirit, and, most importantly, Jackie Earle Haley FINALLY gets to “be” Freddy. And for a few brief moments he’s fantastic. Once he finally gets to verbally engage with his victims, Haley’s Freddy proves there are other ways to scar apart from using razor-sharp claws. Freddy is sinister and sick, but still amusing if your sense of humour veers towards the pitch black.

In the end though, 20 minutes of exhilaration is not really enough to earn A Nightmare on Elm Street any kind of recommendation. The film reeks of lost potential, and can join Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans on the “Dud 2010 remakes” pile. Honestly, all the new Nightmare on Elm Street accomplished was spark my desire to rewatch the original film, and Wes Craven’s scripted third movie, Dream Warriors – with its “proper” Freddy origin story.


Tara said…
1984 one didn't mess around but they were happy normal teenagers before the nightmares started after about 5 minutes.

Meh. Dunno how keen I am to see this now :/
Cleric said…
Honestly... When I saw the poster in the movie theater, I thought "FAIL!"

And your review confirms that. Thanks for warning me not to waste my precious coin on it ;)
Pfangirl said…
Tara, yeah, I was pretty disappointed except for the final 20 minutes or so. It was only then it really felt like a Nightmare on Elm Street film.

Cleric, it's not a complete disaster, but yeah, you could easily wait to watch it on TV in the next few years.

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