I have to say I am your average-casual ‘slasher' horror film fan, and while this genre of horror isn't exactly my favorite, murderous rampaging psychos always had their charm. After Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween", we knew it would only be a matter of time until Hollywood re-imagined everybody's favorite hockey-masked murderer, Jason. 2009's "FRIDAY THE 13TH" is more of a reboot than a remake. The film is co-produced by Michael Bay and directed by Marcus Nispel (yep, the same dude responsible for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) Honestly, if you wanted to know how this film could fit into the current "Friday" mythos--I would say nowhere but maybe somewhere between parts 2 and 3--maybe even before 4, because of some references. The film also opens with a glimpse of part one's final confrontation and has a few kills reminiscent of past "Friday the 13th" films. But is this Jason the same guy we have grown to know and love? Well, not exactly.
The film opens many years before when an enraged mother is trying to kill the last of the irresponsible camp counselors who allowed her son to drown. The last counselor turns the tables on the angry mother and escapes. Now after so many years, we see a glimpse of an abandoned Camp Crystal Lake and a group of sex-crazed/pot starved campers get massacred by a masked man. Fast forward 6 weeks later, a young man named Clay (Jared Padalecki, Supernatural) is searching for his missing sister who was part of the murdered group of campers. Oops, there is now another group of horny campers who will be staying in the cabin of rich boy Trent (Travis Van Winkle) and of course, Clay befriends the rich boy's girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker). Well, the new group is now in Jason's hit list as he kills them off one by one. It's up to the campers to delay their escapades so they can survive.
The screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (also wrote the fun "Freddy vs. Jason") takes some elements from the first four films and adds a little bit of their own ideas. The film won't be a classic and truth be told, it won't be one of the best horror films I've seen this year; but the film does have good production values, serves up some ominous atmosphere and some acceptable kill scenes. Let's give credit where credit is due: it's not as bad as the worst films of the Friday franchise. If we'll be passing judgment from a modern horror standpoint, this film isn't really that good, it offers nothing unique or different, and suspense is almost none-existent. Fortunately, there can be fun to be had in its viewing experience. I'm not defending the film as I will point out its many flaws.
Granted the "Friday" films weren't really that imaginative when it comes to plot and they have stereotypical characters. This latest installment has the same formulas, but the problems with the characters isn't so much as being clichéd but it is the execution that they were written. Trent is just one boring, annoying character that hampers the film. Travis Van Winkle did the best he could and the script definitely wanted the viewer to wish him dead--but anyone with such dumb lines as "stupendous" or "my house, my rules" sounds more like an adult policing kids than an arrogant teen. Then there's your usual stereotypical kids like Chewie and Lawrence (played by Aaron Yoo and Arlen Escarpeta respectively) who likes getting stoned and overstays its welcome of pot jokes. There's also a loser who supposedly had sex with a mannequin. Ok, we get it already--the viewer is supposed to wish these dudes to die a horrible death but it doesn't mean the viewer has to die along with them. Bree (sexy Julianna Guille) plays your usual dumb sex object but boy, does she look good in her birthday suit. Oh, the film does toss about the fair share of sex and nudity, for this I am thankful. I guess the film dawdles too much on attempts at humor and I don't know, but I thought the first group of campers were a little more interesting. Danielle Panabaker's Jenna is arguably the film's most likable character and Clay may be the one to generate some sympathy. I have very mixed feelings for Amanda Righetti's Whitney, I thought her character was more meant for a minor plot device, and I did not like the way she played her perfunctory final scene.
As for our hockey-masked killer, Jason. Well, this dude is a very different Jason from what we were used to. A friend of mine said that "Jason wouldn't do that.." and I agree with him. This Jason is a re-imagining, the director obviously meant him to be smarter (he makes trip wires, traps, and using a victim as bait), he runs and has a great talent for killing his prey quickly. I guess director Marcus Nispel wanted to avoid the clichéd elements of a slasher flick, but he also loses an important element; the older Jason created by Victor Miller may run on occasion in earlier films, but he doesn't take hostages, or make traps but he was one intimidating creepy killer--with his single-mindedness. The fact that he doesn't run in later films gives the viewer the idea that the victim may get away, and the fact that Jason just catches up and comes out of nowhere is one of the Friday franchise's aces--Jason was scary like that. Derek Mears does look intimidating, and that rooftop shot can become a part of Jason's best ICONIC photo-ops. However, this Jason feels little too ordinary, and he loses some of the aspects that garnered him a cult following. The kill scenes are good but not that inventive either. Some scenes do carry hints to past "Friday" films and may be seen as homages; the campfire ghost story, the rise of the hockey mask, the arrow shot from Part 3, shadows behind the tent (was it part 4?), the sleeping bag kill (New Blood or was it Jason X?), the exploration of the former camp grounds (part 2?). These scenes can give one a few trips to nostalgia lane, although realistically speaking, this camp shouldn't even exist anymore.
Also, the film was obviously meant to be bloody but the cinematography is a little too dark at times, that no matter how good a kill scene would be, it doesn't really matter when you can barely see it. But hey, gore is gore right? Ok, this Dvd's "killer cut" may have some more blood and based on what I've read, this version is 9 minutes longer. Containing more gruesome, bloody and extended death scenes and undoubtedly more nudity. There are some changes to some scenes as with Whitney discovering a trapped Richie, a tub shot and Chelsea's discovery. There are probably more inserts but I can't really be certain since I didn't see this movie in theaters, I waited for the film's R-Rated cut.
Overall, "Friday the 13th" isn't a dismal failure. It is a lot better than the worst sequels of the franchise but if you look at it from a horror fan standpoint, it really isn't that good. It lacked the necessary scares and thrills that would make a horror film succeed, but the film is a lot of fun as it does go back to the series‘ straight face. The ineptly written characters do threaten to ruin the film, and the film doesn't practice a good sense of restraint. Still, this new "Friday" installment is a fun experience, and given the added scenes, this "Killer Cut" may have made the film a lot better.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first [3 Stars]
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Originally starting out as an origin story, the film ultimately became a re-imagining of the first four Friday the 13th films. Along with bringing the film back to its roots, Jason was designed as a leaner and faster killer, with a backstory that could provide a little sympathy for the character but not enough that he would lose his menace. Although this film reboots the continuity, Jason's iconic hockey mask, which was not introduced until the third film in the series, is acquired through the progression of the film. In keeping with the tone of the film, Jason's mask was also brought back to its roots, created from a mold of the original mask from Part III, though subtle changes were made to keep it unique to the new film. Friday the 13th also incorporated some of Harry Manfredini's music score from the original Friday film series, as the producers recognized the iconic status it held.