With Hollywood’s business model of recycling successful franchises, it was inevitable that a horror heavyweight like Freddy Krueger would get a reboot. Fans of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series will be glad to know that this modern version of Freddy is mostly the same as the original. He still has his trademark red and green sweater, fedora and razorblade fingertips. He also maintains a bit of his sadistic playfulness his followers have come to expect. Fans of the horror genre, however, may be a little disappointed at how tame this new A Nightmare on Elm Street is as compared to most modern day films in the same genre.
A handful of high school friends have an unbelievable problem. Whenever they sleep, they all dream about the same man who attacks them with a glove that has knives built into the fingertips. They try to discount the phenomenon as just nightmares, but how can they be dreaming the same thing? When members of the group start dying in mysterious ways, those that are still alive realize that being killed in their dreams means dying in real life. It’s up to them to find out who the man is, what he wants and how to stop him before he’s able to kill again.
The premise alludes to the childish belief that if you died in your dreams you would die in real life. Throw in a serial killer that exists solely in dreams and you have a wonderful – albeit fantastic – recipe for a horror movie. These days, however, with the power of the Internet audiences have discovered that the most horrific monsters in the world are regular people, which is why modern horror movies seem to lean towards torture porn rather than scary-looking monsters. So this throwback actually feels quite refreshing. Unfortunately, it also feels a little antiquated.
At its core, this incarnation of A Nightmare on Elm Street is simply a slasher flick. A man with a knife – or, in this case, many small knives – chases down hapless victims. As such, there aren’t that many ways for victims to die. The film does an admiral job varying the deaths, however, by presenting them from different perspectives. In one case, a female victim is thrown around the room in her sleep while an onlooker is helpless to wake her. Regrettably, there are moments where the creative juice is lacking and the film falls back on mundane horror tropes such as the cliché hiding-in-the-closet-looking-through-door-slats and the ol’ hand-through-the-chest-from-behind trick. While these scenes don’t necessarily innovate on the horror genre, the anticipation in the audience will be palpable as everyone tenses up waiting for Freddy to rear his literally ugly head. The filmmakers definitely capitalize on these moments and hold the attack for noticeably longer to extend the effect. The result is not altogether unsatisfying and even the most hardened horror movie-lover will jump in his or her seat.
The writing and direction are also a cut above what audiences have come to expect from horror films. The nightmares that the victims experience aren’t simply random; they collectively build up to a story climax and slowly reveal a bit more of Freddy Krueger’s back story. The film also does a good job of setting up the opposition that the victims face by having the characters research the difficulties associated with not sleeping. It’s a great point of stress and opens up a lot of opportunity for modern self-torture horror. Characters down energy drinks, pop pills and inject themselves with drugs to keep from falling asleep. One character goes so far as to hurt herself to stay awake. For better or worse, however, the film doesn’t go much farther than this.
Jackie Earle Haley’s Freddy Krueger is completely serviceable. He’s scary, menacing and hard to look at. He’s also very matter-of-fact, killing his prey without really enjoying it. He also just seems angry. It’s not until much later in the film that he gets to branch out with his personality. Perhaps it isn’t necessary for the killer in a horror movie to have much character – personality isn’t why he or she is important to the film – but for a character that’s existed in the minds of horror fans for decades it would have been nice flesh Krueger out a bit. Viewers who have seen The Watchmen will also be hard pressed not to think of Haley’s Rorschach whenever he’s on screen. It’s the fedora, mask-like makeup and line-delivery that are difficult to get past.
As a reboot to the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it would have been nice to get a little more explanation on the Freddy Krueger phenomenon, like why he has knife-fingers or why he has the ability to exist in dreams. Instead, the audience just has to accept these traits without question. This film also doesn’t do much with the dream convention until very late in the film. For the most part, the deaths are all toe-to-toe standup fights without any of the fantastic and weird things that happen in dreams. Nevertheless, while A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t redefine its genre, it offers a satisfying movie experience that will deliver classic scares that don’t have the kind of lingering cynical dread of modern horror.
Editor’s Note: The review originally stated that Freddy wore a “red and black” sweater. The colors have been corrected. Working Author regrets the error.