You know why remakes are everywhere these days? Basically it’s all your fault. Well maybe not you specifically but it’s the fault of you collectively as the cinema going public. There’s a lot of people out there who for some reason are scared of seeing anything new. Instead they go with what’s familiar forgetting that at some point in their lives the currently familiar was new. It’s the reason Adam Sandler stopped trying all together. Hollywood are so desperate to pull in a profit these days that they spend the big studio producers spend their every waking minute trying to find people willing to work on established franchises or better yet to remake them so they can become a new franchise to milk. Very rarely is a producer or director genuinely interested in bringing an old film to a new generation. If they were they’d supervise a digital restoration of the original work and finance it’s re-release with new marketing. Instead of that though we get the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street…
No I should start by saying that not all remakes are bad. The Magnificent Seven is a superb remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The James Gunn scribed version of Dawn Of The Dead is a beast of a film. I quite like the US version of The Ring also. Generally though at best a remake ends up being average. There’s many reasons for this. The original could have been a film very much “of it’s time”. The relevancy of it’s subject could long be outdated. The crew working on the remake may just plain be not as skilled as the original. Modern day corner cutting and techniques might also weaken the overall effect of the original films versions of certain scenes. It’s this latter issue that mostly plagues Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Technically the film does get a lot right. Bayer has a keenly tuned eye for making shots drip with grime and dirt. Sure he loves to fill every shot with greens and golden browns but he’s certainly not afraid of making the sets look at grim as possible and is definitely not afraid of allowing the texture of a surface show in all it’s rust encrusted glory. But he comes from a world of music video directing. A world where thematically you’re echoing the effect of a certain type of aesthetic rather than actually playing it out to it’s fullest. For example; in the original Nightmare film there’s a scene where Freddy pushes his way through the wall of a Nancy’s (played by Rooney Mara in the remake) bedroom. The scene exists here but there’s a tepid modernised feel to it that hurts the overall effect. In the original the effect was achieved by a very simple method. the wall was latex and Robert Englund just pushed his face into it so it’s stretched out in a bizarre and unreal manner. Here it’s, you guessed it, CGI. Why? I have no idea. The original effect worked, looked realistic and was done in camera for a few dollars. Here it’s a very obvious computer generated effect that loses a lot of it’s effect because the viewers brain is already shouting “FAKE!!!” as loud as it can. Have a look at the two shots for yourself and tell me which has a more menacing effect.
This sort of thing runs throughout the film with very few of the modern facsimiles managing to come close to evoking a similar level of dread to that of the originals. It’s because Bayer is just showing you these sequences rather than crafting them for bet effect. there is one I think he does better though. The scene with Freddy’s hand coming out of the bath water is better shot and somehow manages to, in my opinion, hold a more iconic image than the originals version of that scene.
Story also takes a tumble here. There’s no clear protagonist for the first 25 minutes. We meet Nancy in the very first scene but she’s introduced nearly as a side character. Instead we follow two other characters until their eventual demises. I suppose you could say that it shows the audience how unsafe their dreams have become that even the apparent hero characters can be killed off. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 isn’t well written enough to pull that off though. To it’s credit they have tried to flesh out the story somewhat. there’s a lot more of Freddy’s origin here but it comes so late in the film that they should have been brave enough to restructure the story to accommodate it more. Perhaps making us believe that Freddy has a reason for killing beyond pure evil from the start would help fill the audience with the feeling that our hero’s can figure out a method to stop him. I’m not against lending sympathy to a villain, it can work well, it’s just that you have to make sure the audience is invested enough in that villain to feel betrayed in some way when he does turn out to be just plain perverted evil.
Performances are a little all over the place in this remake. Some are standard modern horror movie quality performances whilst Rooney Mara is clearly doing the best she can to inject a level of natural presence into her character whilst working with a fairly standard quality of script. Her Nancy is one of them emo kids that anyone over the age of 25 has been preconditioned to dislike. She shuts herself in her room doing art and being all reclusive and stuff. It means as a main character she’s instantly thrown up a barrier between us an the audience. The second protagonist, also an outsider of course, Quentin (Kyle Gallner) is at least a little more proactive about making sure they both stay awake. Nancy is too much of a good girl to use medication to keep herself awake though. Either that or she is aware that she will need to fall asleep to actually fight Freddy at the films climax and is thus helping the story move along.
Freddy, here played by Hollywood’s favourite guy in the shadows Jackie Earle Haley, carries himself well and has a certain amount of menace but fails to be scary thanks to an obviously digitally manipulated voice and Bayer’s apparent inability to refrain from showing him in full light. If you watch the extras they talk about revealing him slowly by keeping Freddy in the shadows as much as possible early on. They don’t do this at all. Sure there’s shadow, but there’s also more than enough light on his face to make any future close ups of his scar riddled, burn victim face lose any impact it could have had. Ideally you would have only seen small parts of him, such as the glove and striped jumper, before a reveal in the final act. More sequences where his torment of the characters is carried out through the eyes of people in the waking world and more use of reality bending scares would have kept him a scary enigma for long enough for his appearance to be something you could feel some fear at seeing.
Overall the film is competently made and nothing is outright terrible. There’s story and shooting missteps that drag the films full potential down. The feeling of dread the original managed to sustain is lost and replaced with jump scares and forced suspense. Some of the transitions between the real and dream world are pretty effective though. At the end of the day it just feels incredibly average. A lot of the horror films going through remakes these days launched the careers of a group of skilled directors. These remakes are merely giving a group of competent directors something to do to earn a pay cheque. Also, why are people always researching on the internet in movies these days? yes it’s the way people do it now but watching people stare at a computer screen is not as visually interesting as watching people work their way through a ton of books actually looking for what they need to find. When someone’s at a computer the sense of urgency is gone because all the need to do is Google a name and the answers are there. Modern isn’t always better when it comes to visual storytelling.