(by Dustin Putman
First there was 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," followed by 2005's "The Amityville Horror," 2007's "The Hitcher," and 2009's "Friday the 13th." Platinum Dunes, the genre-themed production company from producer Michael Bay, continues its preference for repeating the past with "A Nightmare on Elm Street," an underwhelming reboot of Wes Craven's rightfully classic and still-effective 1984 original. Disappointingly replacing what was once a tale of female empowerment with a more standard slasher picture interspersed with a whole lot of teenage sleuthing via books and websites, music video director Samuel Bayer (making his feature debut) and screenwriters Wesley Strick (2005's "Doom") and Eric Heisserer mix the old with the new while generally watering down character nuance and taking shortcuts when old-fashioned creative inspiration would have been desirable. Article continues below
When sleep-afflicted classmate Dean Russell (Kellan Lutz) suffers a brutal death at the local Springwood Diner, witnesses Kris Fowles (Katie Cassidy) and Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) aren't so sure he took his own life even as they admit no one else was there to have done it. At the funeral, Kris spots a photo of her and Dean together as children, yet she has no recollection of having known him before high school. As she begins an investigation into the mysteries of their pasts, she and Nancy—along with Kris' boyfriend Jesse Braun (Thomas Dekker) and Nancy's ready steady Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner)—discover they've all been having nightmares about the same person, a horribly burned, razor-gloved boogeyman named Freddy Krueger. For reasons they do not yet understand, he's out to kill them all through their dreams, and if you die in your sleep, you die for real.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" introduces a few fresh elements that keep it from being a strictly generic redux, like gardener Fred's pedophilic (rather than murderous) background, a plot that more closely ties together the endangered Elm Street children with their night stalker, and the concept of micronaps brought on by sleep deprivation that put the protagonists in harm's way even as they are up and about. This latter element leads into the few halfway creepy moments of the movie, including a scene set at a drug store with The Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream" hauntingly playing over the sound system, and another bit set on a dark, desolate country road.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film feels like a pale, less textural imitation of material done better twenty-six years ago. With the exception of a brief recall of original composer Charles Bernstein's unforgettable industrial-sounding central theme, the new music score by Steve Jablonsky (2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen") is trite and unimaginative, sounding like every other forgettable horror composition of the last decade and a half. There's simply no flair to it. Call-backs to the original picture—i.e., the bathtub scene, the body bag in the hallway, the bloody bedroom murder that has the victim defying gravity and tossing around on walls—are inferior each and every time. Of particular note is the iconic moment where the indentation of Freddy presses against the wall at the head of Nancy's bed. In the low-budget predecessor, the effect was done practically with nothing more than a large strip of spandex standing in for the wall, the outcome proving to be aesthetically rich and beyond chilling. In the remake, the same thing is replaced by glaringly obvious CGI that takes the viewer out of the moment and looks cheesy, even laughable, rather than scary. This sequence may be minor in the grand scheme of things, but it is perfectly symbolic of the laziness and lack of ingenuity inherent with much of today's plastic Hollywood moviemaking.
Also quite deflating is the decidedly non-feminist treatment of Nancy, who has gone from being a strong-willed, butt-kicking heroine whose vulnerability doesn't stop her from taking control of the situation to a soft-spoken wallflower who needs the help of a man to save the day. Rooney Mara (2010's "Youth in Revolt") plays the part as written, but she doesn't have the presence or weight to carry a film of this sort and frequently just looks uncomfortable in front of the camera. She's certainly no Heather Langenkamp. A far stronger heroine would have been Katie Cassidy (2009's "Taken"), who does command the screen as Kris and positions herself as the lead for the movie's opening act. Cassidy brings reality to a fantastical premise, and also palpably is affected when her friends start dying. The rest of the actors take the murders in stride and don't seem to give the increasingly dire news more than a passing thought. When Cassidy is taken out of the equation and, for all intents and purposes, replaced with Mara's Nancy, she is sorely missed. As Quentin, Kyle Gallner (2009's "The Haunting in Connecticut") is at times alarmingly fair-skinned, but does his best with a part that is the more modern equivalent to Johnny Depp's in the earlier feature.
The adults fare worse from a writing standpoint, with the exquisite Connie Britton (TV's "Friday Night Lights") underused and meagerly developed as Nancy's mother and Clancy Brown (2009's "The Informant!") given even less to do as Quentin's school principal father. And how is Freddy? With make-up that is more accurate to what a real burn victim looks like, Jackie Earle Haley (2009's "Watchmen") bravely tackles the role made famous by the incomparable Robert Englund. Haley clearly takes it seriously and even gives Freddy a shade of sympathy in the flashbacks, but he is physically too slight to be very threatening and doesn't have the same level of menace. Meanwhile, though the one-liners are kept to a minimum, he unfortunately does deliver a few doozies in the climax that embarrass rather than entertain.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" culminates in boneheaded plot developments—returning to the remnants of a long closed-down preschool, Nancy and Quentin instantly discover evidence that Freddy once stayed there, as well as passageways and secret rooms that we are led to believe the police never found—and a final scene that makes far less sense than even the barely comprehensible last scene of the original. Furthermore, the concluding confrontation with Freddy is anticlimactic and a tad misogynistic, with Nancy not standing a chance on her own without the help of Quentin. Director Samuel Bayer has turned a young woman's hair-raising, underlyingly sexual coming-of-age and transition toward adulthood into nothing more than an empty, conventional fight to the death. Somewhere along the way he seems to have missed the point.