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Friday the 13th (Marcus Nispel, 2009)
More a sequel than a remake, Marcus Nispelís grisly entry in the Friday the 13th franchise is notable mostly for the way that it sacrifices suspense for sheer brutality. The rules of this long-running slasher film series have been long-established, but in this installment hockey-masked killer Jason is less likely than before to toy with his victims. No longer does the ubiquitous boogeyman trudge steadfastly after those he stalks, only to appear behind them at the last moment. Now, he runs and strikes fast, usually only once. Itís nastier than what fans of the series are likely to remember. Whether itís a change for the better is up for debate.
A brutal approach workedÖ brilliantly, in factÖ in Nispelís remake of Tobe Hooperís The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because that queasy nightmare of a movie offered sustained terror, and grew steadily more desperate as it wore on. It was positively unremitting, and therefore effective. The hopelessness that defined so many 1970s horror classics was present again in that remake, delivered with more technical skill than fans of the genre were accustomed to. Nispelís talents, and his lack of sentimentality, seemed ideally geared toward recreating a scenario so predicated on helplessness.
The demands of the slasher genre, or at least those slasher movies that the Friday the 13th series became the poster child for, make it a different breed than Chainsawís horror show, however. Made in the 1980s, for an audience who had specific expectations of body count, excessive nudity, and misplaced morality, these films were blatant, pandering product in a way that Hooperís film never was. They were also structured so that their action would rise and fall, with each victim slowly becoming separated from the herd, only to be culled by the killer. Each victim was also briefly characterized before death, providing a shortcut to our easy moral judgment of them. This set-up let the audience catch its breath between the creative murder scenes. By their very nature, the Friday the 13th series didnít offer intensity, but rather shocks that came in short, ugly bursts.
Nispel, though faithful to the structure of the Friday the 13th series, tries to transfer the humorless, unrelenting tone of his Chainsaw Massacre remake to the outing. It results in a script that asks us to re-envison Jason as a serious threat instead of an avatar that exterminates various irksome/promiscuous/stupid teenagers. Heís successful, to a degree, in this pursuit, because heís created a movie that is nasty and ugly. Still, his is sure to be a controversial approach to a series that has been equally reviled and beloved since its inception.
Nispelís Friday the 13th has plenty of murders, but itís not especially gory or imaginative in its modes of teen dispatch. Itís meant to be more realistic that way, I suppose, though I am no expert in such matters. In it, two groups of teens are lined up for slaughter, the first offed during a lengthy pre-title sequence, the second killed over the rest of the run time. This new film offers no particular changes from the seriesí template, beyond the tonal shift into meaner spirits, but that change makes it feel like a member of a different film series entirely. This new Friday sacrifices much of the cat-and-mouse stalking that has defined the series. Itís made all too apparent that no one stands much of a chance here. Though it seems no more or less effective than whatís come before when it comes to generating moments that make people jump in their theater seats, Nispelís Friday the 13th certainly becomes harder to take pleasure in due to its callousness.