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Jason Comes Home: Friday the 13th (2009)

  • Feb 16, 2009
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It's pretty well known that I'm anti-remake, particularly when it comes to horror films. I'm not so much opposed to the idea of revisiting horror's most iconic characters—it's more a case of being disappointed that the revisiting is done mainly to appease an audience too lazy to watch the originals (I've spent some time talking to people under twenty, and if I hear one "I just can't get interested in these old movies" when referencing a film made less than 20 years ago, I may go postal. Yes, I know this makes me sound like the cranky old bastard yelling at people to get off of his lawn—a role I will assuredly one day assume—but that's not all that different from being a teen and expecting the whole cinematic universe to cater to my ADD and poor taste). I've approached these horror remakes with an open mind—and I'd really probably enjoy them if someone could actually make one and not have it suck (I list John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly amongst my favorite films of all-time. Both are remakes, both are what all remakes should aspire to be. Hell, I even really liked the recent remake of My Bloody Valentine).

When it was announced that Jason Voorhees, the masked madman who's been terrorizing Crystal Lake for nearly three decades now, was coming back to the big screen I was pretty excited. Then they announced that Platinum Dunes would be doing it—my excitement dropped a notch. Then came the news that Marcus Nispel would be directing it…flatline. Nispel and Platinum Dunes are the guys who essentially ruined the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake a few years back (a film that has now suddenly become fashionable to like for some reason that eludes me). Still, this is Jason we're talking about—and any gorehound out there is going to be excited to see Herr Voorhees back in action. Could it really be worse than Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan?

The answer is no, but that doesn't absolve Nispel's re-imagining of the Friday the 13th origin story from all of its cinematic shortcomings. It's hard for a horror fan like myself to look at Friday the 13th in a completely objective light because the ties to Jason and the series are so strong. Is this movie really as bad as it sometimes seems or is that simply my Horror Geek elitism refusing to accept a re-imagining of a character that has been part of my life for roughly 30 of the 36 years I've been alive? Is it really as good as it occasionally feels, or is that just my love for all things Jason helping me put the blinders on and dig something based solely on nostalgia? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Look, let's be honest—the original Friday films aren't quite the sacred cows and cinematic classics a lot of my horror film critic brethren would have you believe they are. Remaking Friday the 13th bugs us older horror fans because we look at those films and love them for a lot of different reasons (the gore, the gratuitous T&A—at least in the earlier films, before the MPAA turned into their own version of Jason, hacking away at everything that might have been cool—and the Jason character's unquenchable thirst for killing horny teenagers) and can't understand why you'd want to update them when the originals work so well. That being said, Friday has always appealed to the lowest common denominator. There's nothing wrong with that, but remaking one of these films isn't really bound to upset the apple cart of what has come before. Remaking something unique like Suspiria (which is the film it is because of Argento's masterful direction and design decisions—something some other director will never be able to replicate in any meaningful way) is worth railing against. Remaking Friday the 13th is never quite as egregious.

So, if you can make peace with the fact that yes, Hollywood has churned out another horror film remake, then you can finally start to take Nispel's version on its own merits. It's just the key to accepting the remake required a lot of soul searching on my part.

Nispel (and screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift—who brought us Freddy vs Jason) has essentially crafted a film that is sort of an omnibus remake. It's called Friday the 13th, but in a lot of ways, it crams together elements from Fridays 1 through 4. Opening with an extremely lengthy (and entertaining) prologue that gets right to the killing and doesn't let up for twenty or so minutes, the film starts off strong. We get our Jason history lesson wherein we learn that Jason watched a camp counselor behead his mother nearly thirty years earlier. We jump to the present, where a group of walking clichés is wandering the woods around the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake in search of a large batch of marijuana. They find the weed, but unluckily for them, they also find Jason.

Amongst this group is Whitney (Amanda Righetti) your seemingly prototypical final girl. She goes missing (and presumed dead) after Jason goes berserk. The film jumps ahead six weeks with a new group of clichés coming to the lake (seriously...everyone here looks like they stepped out of an Abercrombie catalogue and their character types are like shorthand for the order of their death. I will give the film credit for actually not killing the token Asian and African American characters first, though). They're here to party, which never ends well in a Friday flick. They intersect with Clay (Supernatural's Jared Padalecki), who's Whitney's brother and combing the area in search of his missing sibling (which brings to mind the similar character running around in The Final Chapter). You can pretty much guess how it all plays out from there…

The film's greatest strength also proves to be one of its greatest failings. It filled my black heart with joy to see Jason back on the screen killing people, but the way Nispel presents Jason in the film leaves a lot to be desired. New Jason Derek Mears does an admirable job of donning the mask—he's big, imposing, looks fantastic in the potato sack hood, and actually runs after some of his victims. The problem is that Nispel never gives us that one iconic shot of Jason looming that seems to mark every Friday film (like Jason standing atop the overturned RV in Jason Lives, for example). In fact, Nispel tends to keep Jason out of the center of the frame and hidden away in the shadows most of the time. In a new franchise, this would be a nifty approach—overexposing the monster tends to kill a lot of the spooky factor in a horror flick. Too bad we all know what Jason looks like after all these years (and most of us turn up to see him in the films…) and that Friday gave up any pretense of being spooky after the first film ended (and probably before…). The decision to keep Jason relatively hidden for much of the film feels like a cheat.

The other problem is that this remake has no inventive kills. Friday really hit its stride when Jason came onboard in Parts 2 and 3. Those films (directed by Steve Miner) were heavily influenced by Mario Bava's Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve (one of the first "body count" films, and featuring some very inspired murder sequences) and from that point on, every Jason flick has featured at least one murder sequence that stands out and defines that particular film (either for its inventiveness or sheer gross-out value). Examples of this include the sleeping bag beatdown in Part 7, Jason Lives' face through the side of the RV, the first film's Kevin Bacon throat slash, Part 2's machete to the face of the wheelchair dude, etc.. This new Friday has no signature death scene. Jason simply stalks his prey and tends to dispatch them with his machete. Even when the potential for a great kill is there (the bow and arrow sequence, which owes back to the first film or even the sleeping bag over the campfire bit) Nispel never delivers and takes it to the next level.

Finally, the script is a bit of a problem at various points too. I can live with the fact that Jason somehow lives at Camp Crystal Lake (and even has electricity…) without anyone ever noticing him, but what happens with the Whitney character doesn't feel very realistic or well-integrated into the story proper. I get the homage to Part 2's mother scene, but again, I don't think it really works.

For all the hoopla about how violent and bloody and sexy this new Friday was going to be, it doesn't ever quite live up to the hype. The reimagining is certainly violent (and filled with a fair amount of exposed breasts), but there's never a moment where it actually grossed the audience out. Usually a good slasher manages to make the entire audience offer a collaborative "ew" at some point—but Friday comes up short in this regard.

Truthfully though, most of the problems with Friday are things that only the hardcore horror crowd will ever spot. This film doesn't feel like it's aimed at the longtime fan of Jason's gruesome exploits but instead has targeted a new generation of viewers who were barely of school age when Jason X shot the psycho into outer space. As a simple slasher flick, it's entertaining enough and will certainly get a younger crowd interested in Jason as a character (and hopefully serve as a "gateway drug" that leads them back to not only the originals but also to checking out other horror flicks). That doesn't mean it gets a pass on all its problems (particularly the quick-cut Michael Bay styled over-editing—enough with that already…), but it does mean that the film meets the core requirements of a Friday movie (Jason, violent death, stupid teenagers, and T&A) well enough that it's worthy of a recommendation for anyone who likes horror in general and slashers in particular.

So, here we are, at the end of one of the harder to write reviews I've done in awhile. There are a numerous (and hopefully well documented) problems with this film. At the same time it's Friday the 13th, so expecting a nuanced or deep story often seems besides the point. I've spend the entirety of the review telling you what's wrong with the film—and all of those things are valid. That being said, there's still something exciting about seeing Jason back in the hockey mask, killing teenagers, and skulking through the woods. Hardcore Friday fans are going to find this new film a bit of push. Fans who go in expecting little more than some hacking, slashing, and bad kids getting their comeuppance should walk away pleased.

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July 16, 2009
Very Well Written Review!!  All the kids DO look like they are out of an Abercrombie add!  The only thing I really disagree with you on is the bit of keeping Jason hidden.  I thought that one scene where he is standing on the roof with the lightning made him stand out quite a bit.  I really enjoyed the amount of detail you went into though, really well done.  You might enjoy my take on the new Friday the 13th or and also of the new My Bloody Valentine.  I also wanted to let you know that you can now share your awesome review using the new share box at the top of your reviews! 
May 30, 2009
I didn't care for this one either at all. Like yourself, I dread the imposing flux or horror remakes but this was one of the worst ones in my opinion. The movie can't really decide whether it's content to be just one of the sequels or it wants to be a remake. Either way, it fails miserably. Thanks for the great review!
February 16, 2009
Thanks so much guys! I'm glad you found the review useful. I had a hard time with it because the movie feels pretty bad overall, but it's still Jason running around, which is always cool. I wasn't really sure how to rate it as a whole.
February 16, 2009
amazing review, Mike! Boy, was that worth the wait! I love the way you opened your review and you presented a great analysis on its target audience. I am truly floored! Two of my friends wrote contrasting opinions in amazon, and while one is a true hardcore horror fan (a purist) the other one appreciated this remake's approach. I was on the fence, and now I think I may either go see it tomorrow or wait for it on dvd. Thank you for the superb review, your opinion truly packed a punch and has confirmed the things I've feared. thanks again.
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About the reviewer
Mike Bracken ()
Ranked #218
I'm a 36-year-old film critic who specializes in Horror and Cult Cinema as well as Asian films. I spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture quiz show, Beat the Geeks. I'm also … more
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Friday the 13th is a 2009 American horror film directed by Marcus Nispel, and written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. It is a reboot of the Friday the 13th film series, which began in 1980.

It stars Derek Mears as Jason Voorhees, with Jared Padalecki, Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker portraying the male and female leads. The film follows Clay Miller (Padalecki) as he searches for his missing sister, Whitney (Righetti), who was taken by Jason while she was camping in the woods at Crystal Lake.

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.

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