Photos © New Line Cinema
Review by Joseph L. Lewis
Samuel Bayer, director of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, makes his directorial film debut in the re-imagining of Wes Craven's 1984 horror classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Bayer does Craven's film justice by creating a visually stunning, sleek, entertaining, and socially relevant adaptation to the 1984 mind-bending chiller. Initially, Wes Craven opposed the remake of his timeless tale, which to my mind seemed completely justifiable because I thought that a film of this caliber should have been re-released and not re-imagined.
With that, I was a bit worried about how Bayer was going to execute some of the most fantastic scenes in horror movie history. I appreciate the fact that Bayer stays true to certain aspects of the original film, like Kris's (Tina's) death, which is just as intense in the remake as it is in the original. At the same time, I appreciate how Bayer updates other scenes, such as Jesse's murder, and I also like how Bayer reconceptualizes the regurgitating bed from Craven's film to become the regurgitating ceiling in his adaption.
Along with my initial apprehension of Bayer's ability to convey such dazzling images, I was also worried about how he was going to find someone with the same devilish charisma to fill that legendary glove that originally covered the right hand of Robert Englund. I was surprised to find out the role of this iconic character was going to played by Jackie Earle Haley. Not only was Haley under the intense pressure of being the first to adapt Robert Englund's brilliant take of the modern-day boogieman, Haley also had to make this character his own. Haley rises to the challenge with grace. His performance as Freddy Krueger suggests that he is extremely conscious of these factors, which help him revitalize and even create a new swagger for Krueger.
Rooney Mara plays Nancy, the unexpected heroine of the film. Bayer's vision of Nancy's character is much more reserved and dark in comparison to the original Nancy. Unlike the steady relationship between her and Glen, in the 1984 version, Nancy sparks a new love with an Emo, prescription addicted, and wannabe rocker named Quentin, played by Kyle Gallaner. Kris, played by Katie Cassidy, updates the role of Tina. Like Tina, Kris toils over an on again, off again relationship with her defiant boyfriend, Jesse, played by Thomas Trekker. While each character is reminiscent of the original characters in Craven's film, each character finds an individual way to appeal to a contemporary audience.
Craven has a knack for capturing a sense of contemporary U.S. social culture and the mood of a generation coming of age within that social culture. Like Craven, Bayer succeeds at capturing a sense of a youth culture affected by the so-called demise of the American family. Bayer gives his audience a view into not only contemporary society but also how this contemporary society is influenced by the one Craven depicts in the original Nightmare.
While Bayer stays true to the original story, he also enhances the story by making the characters directly connected to Freddy Krueger, the child molester. In the original, Nancy and her friends are allegedly paying for the sins of their parents' decision to kill a child murderer/molester. It is never explained if Freddy terrorized any of the kids from the original film prior to his death. In this updated version, the kids whom Freddy terrorizes are the same kids that he sexually abuses. As a result of Freddy's malfeasance, the kids' parents decide to take the law into their own hands and torch Kruger at his boiler-room. This gives the story a more realistic quality that was previously lacking in the original.
The exploration of sleep deprivation also enhances the original story. Unlocking this knowledge creates a deeper sense of tension for the audience. As the characters fall prey to sleeplessness, Freddy's appearances become more random, which heightens the element of terror in the dream sequences.
The 2010 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street received mixed reviews. Many critics bashed the film due to lack of originality. However, before criticizing Bayer's "lack of originality," I think that critics of this film need to keep in mind that remakes are not supposed to be original because they are remakes! That said, I think that A Nightmare on Elm Street is Platinum Dunes's most successful remake, which unfortunately does not say too much because it only reiterates the fact that the film industry, especially the horror genre, is suffering from a lack of originality as a whole. Thus, dissenting critics of A Nightmare are criticizing something larger than Bayer's adaptation.
Overall, Bayer's revision kept the true die-hard Freddy fans happy. There was applause at the end of the film when I saw it for the first time—so far it's been twice now. I was hooked from the opening scene and after the final scene, I wanted more. I am excited to see where the Freddy the franchise of 21st century will go from here.
© Joseph L. Lewis, 2010