‘Friday the 13th’ *** Movie Review 021909

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The remake of 'Friday the 13th' cut itself a mean 42 million this past weekend, showing that the slasher film still draws a crowd. How is it? Well, that really doesn't matter. If you are a fan of the slasher genre and/ or the 'Friday the 13th' series, chances are you will enjoy the film on one level or another. If you are not a fan, this will not be the feature to change your mind. In writing this review, I am giving 'Friday the 13th' a slight recommendation but only if you are a fan, otherwise beware.

I intend no disrespect to the filmmakers and actors behind the film. For what it is, the technical merits certainly hold up. The violence is bloody, the actors scream real good, and the villain, Jason, looks real big. The problem is, 'Friday the 13th' does so little with the story it tells that I am forced to admit I have trouble remembering anything memorable about the characters. This is easily the weakest part of the film (and maybe the series.) There isn't much memorable about the characters so consequently when they are in danger, I don't care as much as I might if they were people I knew and liked.

I don't tend to like seeing anyone in pain so when characters were tortured or murdered I wanted it to stop in the same way I wouldn't want anyone to be hurt. Well, that is except for the “mean guy” Trent (Travis Van Winkle,) who was so obnoxious I was hoping he would be one of the first to get knocked off. Therein lies the problem, he was probably the most memorable of the onscreen group and it was simply because he was such a grumpy turd. Everyone else breaks down into the most basic of archetypes. There was the nice guy Clay (Jared Padalecki, who looks like he is auditioning for the 'Dukes of Hazard'.) Clay has no real character other than that he is nice and he is the brother of a missing girl Whitney (Amanda Righetti.) Then there was the nice girl Jenna, played by Danielle Panabaker and then there was the beach bum guy Nolan, played by Ryan Hansen who goes off boating with one of the blond girls, Chelsea (Willa Ford.)

There is the guy starting a record label, Lawrence (played by Arlen Escarpeta) and the “Mr. Fix-It” type, Chewie (played by Aaron Yoo.) By they way, all these descriptions I'm giving are almost literally all you will get in 'Friday the 13th'. There is so little to go by that I almost wonder why they don't just give the actors numbers for names and line them up. There is almost zero character development, plot, or back story but that won't matter one bit to fans of this sort of thing because there are plenty of bloody killings to be had in 'Friday the 13th'. There are also lots of topless actresses which is a draw for me but they sort of lose me when the girls get cut up onscreen. Spare the blood and give me the boobies, that's what I say.

Anyway, for those that don't know Jason (the masked villain) was a young boy who drowned in “Crystal Lake”. It seems the camp counselors were knockin'-the-boots when they should have been on lifeguard patrol. Jason's mother goes berserk, killing everyone at the camp and then somewhere along the way she is killed. This really upsets Jason who comes back from the dead as a 7 foot tall hockey player with a machete. (Sure she was a killer but she was still mom.)

The thing is though, there isn't explanation for anything. In the film, there is a brief montage of Jason's mother reeking havoc and then a passing comment that somehow Jason came back. (In the original film, Jason's mother was the main villain and Jason didn't show up until the sequels.) As a baddie', Jason is one part Frankenstein monster and two parts supernatural creature. To me, that is simultaneously his worst and best qualities: there are no rules for him. From the Frankenstein part he gets a big, tough, lumbering form and from the supernatural parts he gets the abilities to do just about anything. He can appear almost anywhere around Crystal Lake, he can set up tons of traps, never eat, never get tired and always appear just when there is going to be some sort of opportunity to kill or scare hapless campers. The downside is, well, there are no rules. With all the abuse he is able to take, he may as well be invincible and with little to no back story or explanation, the filmmakers can do whatever they want, whenever they want with no regard for continuity.

Of course, none of that is a departure from any of the previous films. In fact when writing this review I had trouble remembering if I learned the plot points from this film or from the originals. I am by no means an expert but only having seen a few of the past films, I was still able to spot several references (like killings) from past entries in the series. I think fans will get a kick out of the references and Jason moves quick and looks fearsome so I guess it is a fitting interpretation of the character. I wish the filmmakers had done more. How did Jason come back? Is there anyway to fight him? If he has returned from hell, can you send him back? Why do the townsfolk act so strange in the areas around Crystal Lake? Are they in on all the killings? 'Friday the 13th' never stops to answer any of those (or any other) questions.

Plus, the group of good looking men and woman that make up the characters in 'Friday the 13th' are dumb as driftwood. If you are the type that is bothered by characters doing stupid things you may have a tough time with this movie. At one point two characters Mike (Nick Mennell, who was also in Rob Zombie's recent Halloween remake) and Jenna wander into the rundown and abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. The Camp is falling apart and in such disrepair that even the metal fences are collapsing. The adventuresome pair make their way inside one of the old buildings. Upon discovering piles and piles of used candles in a bizarre sort of shrine, one of the two remarks “Someone has been living here” while failing to notice the fully powered Christmas tree lights strung up and illuminating the building. Yeah I'd say someone's been there, like say an electrician and meterman.

For his part, director Marcus Nispel certainly seems like a capable director. He keeps everything moving along at a brisk pace and seems completely at home setting up various gruesome scenes. (It should come as no surprise, that Nispel also directed 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' remake a few years back.) I only wish when the action got extreme (especially towards the end) he did not go with so many shakey' camera shots and quick edits. I had trouble telling just what the heck was going on at a few points. The quick and the shakey' does seem to be the trend now and to be fair, in some of the sequences it worked for me.

In the end it doesn't matter what I think because 'Friday the 13th' has a built in audience. Still, the film could have been boring or a mess and really it is neither. The slasher genre is not one of my favorites but I wasn't bored during the film. Nispel and company restarted a series that could go (and has already gone) just about anyplace the creators want it to. I just wish they had tried to make more solid characters and story foundation for the invevitable sequels to be built on. If you are not a fan of the genre, this film will not be the one slasher to see. If you are a fan and are willing to overlook some of the things that don't work but certainly have already been a part of the series for a long time now, give it a try.


‘Friday the 13th’ Links:


My review of Rob Zombie's 'Halloween' remake.


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