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A Nightmare on Elm Street
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A Nightmare on Elm Street – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

High school student Dean (Lutz) is sitting in a diner. He looks like he hasn’t slept for days. He’s been trying not to, because every time he falls asleep, a creepy man with a burnt face and blades for fingers appears to haunt his dreams and threaten his life.
Dean can stay awake no longer. He dozes off. The burnt man, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) finds him, and slits his throat with his razor-blade finger nails.
Dean’s friend, the waitress Nancy (Rooney Mara), can do nothing as she looks on and sees him slicing his neck open with one of the diners’ knives.

At Dean’s funeral, his girlfriend Kris (Katie Cassidy) sees a photograph of the pair of them together as young children, but she doesn’t remember knowing him all those years ago. Worried she might also die in her sleep, she asks her ex boyfriend Jesse (Thomas Dekker) to keep her company one night, but he cannot save her from a blood-spattering death, which leaves him covered in her blood and, as such, as a murder suspect. The police soon realise they have the wrong guy, when Jesse meets an equally horrific end in his jail cell.

It’s left to Nancy and another class-mate Quentin (Kyle Gallner) to find out why they’re all being killed, how they’re linked and what horrific truth their parents have been keeping from them for years.
Can they find the truth in time to save their own lives?

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

As the title – and plot – suggest, this is a remake – or reimagining – of the 1984 classic. Much like other recent such reimaginings, the first question to come to mind is “why bother?”

It’s certainly a slick and bloody affair that will appeal to horror freaks, but it inevitably doesn’t have the same shock factor as Wes Craven’s original.
There are a few areas where modern-day special effects surpass the visuals of the original, but the effectiveness of slasher films doesn’t depend on the quality of the visuals, but how frightening they are.

Like the recent Paranormal Activity, A Nightmare on Elm Street preys on all of us, because everyone sleeps – and from time to time, any of us could have a nightmare where we feel threatened.
The idea of shared nightmares should be scary too, but when this film explores the past these teenagers don’t remember sharing with Freddy, the plot and the morality collapses.

The horrifically injured ghost of their primary-school gardener Freddy is exacting his revenge on teenagers who years earlier accused him of abusing them, which led to a lynch mob of parents setting fire to the warehouse where he was hiding from them. Putting aside the question of why he isn’t seeking revenge on the parents themselves, the suggestion, at first, is that the children lied, so this is their punishment. The idea that the apparent victims actually deserve their fate for bearing false witness that led to an innocent man’s death is a neat and original twist on the horror genre. But when it turns out that maybe they’d been telling the truth after all, the film loses the subtle edge that it had – a ruthlessly evil fiend tormenting the innocent, it makes this just like every other film of its kind.

Seeing this on a level with the canon of teen slasher films, this doesn’t really stand out as anything different or unusual. How often have we seen beasts ripping apart groups of helpless and innocent teenagers, one by one, fortuitously in the right order for the narrative to be able to unfold to its inevitable conclusion. The behaviour of the parents – in the modern day – makes no sense in the circumstances. Why has he waited until now to seek revenge? And the inconsistencies grow frustrating – some of the characters appear to the outside world to kill themselves, while in other cases, inexplicable wounds just appear – and for no apparent reason, only one of the characters seems to be able to bring Freddy into the real world.

Putting aside the plot, most of the shocks come from the music or Freddy jumping out of the shadows, rather than any sense of a brooding menace that should infuse this genre. There is little subtlety or intelligence here.

Without exception, the teenagers are instantly forgettable – both the characters themselves and the actors who play them – unlike the recent Jennifer’s Body, where everyone was interesting to watch.

And once Freddy loses the sympathetic depth he starts out with, his character becomes nothing more than a killing machine – buried under so much make-up, there’s almost nothing for Jackie Earle Haley to do but pop out of the shadows, sharpen his razor blades and utter inanities in his gruff voice.
I hope he knows what he’s doing, because he’s carving out a real niche for himself as a predatory paedophile on screen, after the role that shot him into the big time, in Little Children. Most actors who explore such roles – like Dylan Baker in Happiness or Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman – have an element of empathy and ensure they don’t get typecast, but Haley is going to have to be careful when he pops to the supermarket if he ventures into this territory again any time soon.

Thankfully, A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it will pretty much deliver what you’d expect from a teen slasher, so you’ll know before you go on whether you’re going to like it or not.
It’s slick, stylish, bloody and – at times – quite scary, but it’s obvious, corny, contrived, humourless and tired – although tired as it is, you probably won’t want to go straight to sleep.

Opens nationwide 7 May 2010

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