Sunday, May 15, 2011

Franchises: Friday the 13th. Friday the 13th (2009)

After the enormous success of Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, everybody, myself included, assumed that Jason's next big-screen appearance would be in a sequel to that flick, maybe with Michael Myers or Pinhead thrown into the mix as well but, as the years passed, no such film came about. Then, in early 2006 I believe it was, I read an article in some magazine that Michael Bay would be involved in the next movie featuring Jason. I didn't really have an opinion on this turn of events other than I was just happy to know that another film featuring our favorite hockey-masked killer was being made. However, I did assume that it would be just another random sequel with Jason killing people at Crystal Lake and nothing more... and that's when the remake trend, which started in earnest in 2005, really kicked into high gear, with one beloved 1970's or 80's horror film after another being revamped with a fairly big budget and given a glossy, modernized look and feel. Although each one of those films had varying degrees of success in terms of box-office and whether or not they worked as entertaining movies, I still didn't think much of this trend in regards to stuff like Friday the 13th since they were mainly going after either obscure, cult titles like Black Christmas and When A Stranger Calls or films like Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that were certainly more well-known but hadn't already spawned huge, long-established, mainstream franchises. I honestly didn't believe that they would touch any of those really big series but that notion changed in 2007 when Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween came out, because I then knew that a Friday the 13th remake would be coming soon, something that I was very much opposed to. I liked very few of the remakes that were being released, especially the aforementioned Halloween one, and I didn't see the point of restarting a movie series that had been going on since 1980 and had encompassed ten movies (eleven if you count Freddy vs. Jason) by this point. Why not just do another entry in the franchise? And what's more, with James Bond having been rebooted as well (although when I saw Casino Royale, I loved it), it was as if studios were now trying to make you forget that the original movies you'd grown to love and cherish ever existed. But, all that said, when I heard the plan for this film was to make it a combination of the events of films 1-4 and to have Jason be the killer from the get-go instead of his mother, I thought, "This actually may not be that bad." Since the Friday the 13th formula is so simple and easy to pull off, they would have to try really hard to mess it up and as long as it was just Jason killing people, it would probably be an enjoyable flick. Therefore, this was one remake, or "reboot" given the film's nature, I wasn't all that nervous or concerned about.

When the movie finally came out in February of 2009, I didn't go see it but I did see some TV spots for it that looked promising. Those ads, though, weren't enough for me to drop what little guard I did have up, given that I had felt the same way about the ones for Rob Zombie's Halloween, which I had ended up hating with a fiery passion. But at the same time, Ramboraph (now known as Ramboraph4life), a YouTube user whom I deeply respect, saw it and said he'd liked it, and since he's a huge Friday the 13th fan, I figured there might be something to this movie. In any case, I finally saw the movie that summer when I got the DVD for my birthday. I'll tell you my initial reaction to it in a moment but first, here's the plot:

It begins with a black and white flashback to 1980, where Mrs. Voorhees confronts the last camp counselor left alive (who I guess is meant to be Alice). She's immediately beheaded with a machete but little do either of them know that little Jason, who didn't drown after all, witnesses the whole thing. Following the decapitation, Jason takes his mother's locket and the machete and walks off. Fast forward to 2009, where a group of kids, two of whom are searching for a rumored large crop of marijuana in the area, decide to camp out near the remains of Camp Crystal Lake. Needless to say, they quickly encounter Jason, who kills all but one of them who reminds him of her mother when she was young, opting to take her back to his lair instead. Six weeks later, another group of kids head up to Crystal Lake to spend the weekend at the lakeside cabin belonging to one's wealthy family, as does the kidnapped girl's brother in search of her. As you can probably guess, most of them meet a nasty end at the hands of Jason before the night's over.

I'll tell you this: after I got done watching this movie for the first time, I wasn't a happy person; in fact, I was quite mad. I was not mad because I felt that they had screwed with Jason's character (as was the case with Rob Zombie's Halloween), because they hadn't; I was mad because there didn't seem to be any heart in this film at all. The two writers, Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who also wrote Freddy vs. Jason, do feel like sincere fans of the franchise, but I can't say the same for the actual filmmakers because the whole thing just felt like a hastily put together movie with mostly forgettable characters, unimpressive kills, and action scenes that are so darkly photographed and poorly edited that you can't see what's going on half the time. While my opinion of the film did get better after several more watches, I still view it as nothing more than a studio's attempt to make money on a franchise name and as a movie that's not great or terrible but just sort of there at the end of the day.

The director is Marcus Nispel, who had directed the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a fact that led to me holding out hope for the movie because I really like that remake (even though I shouldn't since it started the remake trend) and feel that it's one of the better ones. However, when you watch his Friday the 13th, you can tell that he really doesn't know how to make likable characters for the most part or to film action and kill scenes in a way that's comprehensible and enjoyable. For one, the movie has that murky, music video look that's common to movies nowadays and that I'm now getting fed up with. It's so damn dark at points that I can't tell what's going on or what I'm supposed to be looking at. And as if that wasn't bad enough, whenever Jason attacks somebody, the camera goes crazy, flying around all over the place, and the editing is so bad that it looks the editor is having a stroke. You can often just barely comprehend how Jason killed his victims. Nispel also doesn't seem to understand that, while Jason does kill people in very gruesome ways, he's not sadistic. There are some kills in this film that, while inventive, feel like something you'd see in a Saw or Hostel movie, although nowhere near that gruesome, and it didn't fit with the Jason I've always known and loved. I'm well aware that a remake or reboot is meant to give a new take on a character but I just didn't like that part of this new take on Jason.

The characters are fairly typical for this type of flick. The best one is the lead, Clay Miller, played by Jared Padalecki, the brother of Whitney, whom Jason took hostage because he seems like a genuinely nice, decent guy who just wants to find his sister. Speaking of which, you do get some backstory concerning him and his sister, that they used to be close but drifted apart and then had a fight over their cancer-stricken mother. He knows his sister well enough to know that she wouldn't just
not show up at their mother's funeral and he's also brave and decent enough to try to not only save her but his friend Jenna from Jason's attacks. I really liked this character and kind of wished he had more to do in the movie. Jenna, played by Danielle Panabaker, is the typical nice girl that you always have to have in one of these movies but, other than her having to put up with her asshole boyfriend Trent, there's not much to say about her other than she also goes out of her way to help Clay in finding his sister. She does get killed, though, which really surprised me since hers is the type of character that usually survives these movies. As I mentioned
already, Jenna's boyfriend Trent, played by Travis Van Winkle, is a major dick. He not only doesn't give a shit about any of the guys he's invited up to his dad's house, he also doesn't care one iota about Jenna other than he wants to get in her pants. He's a jerk to Clay from the beginning and doesn't like Jenna hanging around him, and he's also a cheater, banging Bree because Jenna wasn't around. And just to make him even more contemptible, right after he gets finished banging Bree, he accuses Jenna of doing the same with Clay. Unfortunately, like all slasher movie assholes, he doesn't get killed nearly soon enough either. Like her brother, Amanda
Righetti as Whitney, Clay's sister, does have some development to her. She's always been the responsible one in the family, acting as the caregiver for her sick mother and, as a result, doesn't even want to be at Crystal Lake. The group she's traveling with gets killed by Jason but, fortunately for her, she happens to look like a young version of Pamela Voorhees, prompting Jason to her hostage instead of killing her. After that, she spends most of the movie chained up in Jason's lair, trying to figure out a way to escape, and it's quite unbearable when she finally does escape, only for Jason to grab her and take her back right before she can reach any help. Ultimately, she and Clay are the only survivors by the end of the movie.

The other characters are your standard slasher cannon fodder. I actually did like Aaron Yoo as Chewie, the Asian-American of the bunch. He's nothing more than a goofball stoner, granted, but he's quite funny and dies the most painful death in the film as well. Julianna Guill as Bree is your typical slut who just wants to bang some guy, no matter who it is. She ends up banging Trent (actually video-taping it at first, for some reason) and, naturally, dies for it. Arlen Escarpeta tended to annoy me as Lawrence, the African-American who's always lecturing people about being racial around him. The part that always gets me is when he reprimands one girl for assuming he's going to go into rap as a music career just because he's black but, when she apologizes and asks him what music he's going into, he smiles and says, "Rap," making me go, "Wha- then why did you make such a big deal out of it?! That was a waste of thirty seconds." And the part not too long before his death when he says, "I told you, you can't get a handle on me. I surprise you every time," made me almost yell, "Shut the hell up!" Nolan and Chelsea (Ryan Hansen and Willa Ford) are a stereotypical chunk-head guy with a dumb blond girlfriend, although Chelsea does have the distinction of water-skiing topless (which, I must say, is something you'd expect to see in a Friday the 13th movie). Then you have the kids who get killed in the prologue. There's Wade (Jonathan Sadowski), who looks like a nerd but is actually quite funny and foul-mouthed and hopes, along with his friend Richie (Ben Feldman), to find some purported marijuana to make money off of (yeah, apparently, Jason has a lot of weed growing on his property!) Richie, at the same time, decides to bang the very hot Amanda (America Olivio) and she wants to do the same, leading to a pretty funny interplay between the two of them behind Wade's back at the campfire. Finally, there's Whitney's boyfriend, Mike (Nick Mennell), who does want to have sex with Whitney as well but comes across as infinitely more sympathetic than Trent.

As for Jason himself, I will say that, other than the sadistic streak, I did like this new version of the character. He's played by Derek Mears, who is not only a great guy (he's the type of person you want to meet at conventions) but also is simply really good in the role. This Jason is much more human than the zombie version we've had since Part VI and, as a result, is able to run again and move much quicker than in some of the previous films, which I liked. I also like the angle that he's kind of a deformed, psychotic hermit who lives in an old cabin by Crystal Lake and kills anybody who enters his territory because, ever since his mother was killed, all he's wanted is to be left alone. The cabin he lives in appears to be the old house where he and his mother lived together, given that you see a child's bed with his name on it, and I liked that the place is right beside the camp because it gives both Jason and, by extension, his mother, a more direct relation to it. In addition, Jason also has an underground lair and a series of tunnels beneath the camp, one of which leads right to his house. Many seem to not like that aspect but it's never really bugged me, and neither has his being much more resourceful here than before, using trip wires connected to small bells to let him know when someone is nearby and a big lighting system to see outside his cabin at night. He has plenty of other resources at his disposal as well like boats, plenty of different weapons, barrels of kerosene, and such, and he takes things from his victims that he thinks might be useful. As before, he keeps his mother's head in a type of shrine in his house. As for Jason's actual look, you don't really get to see his face save for a brief cut but the pictures I have seen of the makeup looked nicely gruesome and horrific. I thought his wardrobe was also fair (I'm not really going to complain if he's not wearing the exact same clothes he used to wear). Since the events in this movie are a combination of the first four movies, when Jason first appears, he's wearing the bag from Part 2, which still has the same eerie feel to it that it did originally, and he later finds the hockey mask after he kills this very pervy character and realizes that his bag has been ripped open during a struggle with him. That part,
though, which should have been a big moment, is played off in a very trivial way: the hockey mask is just sort of lying around this guy's place and Jason simply sees and puts it on. That said, I do like the way the mask looks, which is simply like an updated version of the classic one he's always worn. And finally, in regards to the backstory with his mother, I liked that they didn't mess the basics: Mrs. Voorhees thought Jason drowned, got killed, it turns out Jason wasn't dead, and he begins killing anybody who comes near Crystal Lake. I also did think it was nice that, during the opening scene in 1980, we actually see young Jason watch his mother get killed, which adds more to it rather than just being told about it like before.

The kills here are kind of lame and unremarkable to me. There's plenty of gore, yes, but as I said, some of the kills are so badly photographed and edited that you can't see what's going on. After the decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees, the first person to be killed by Jason is Wade. We don't see the actual kill but his body is found later and it looks like his throat was slashed. Amanda is actually stuffed in her
sleeping bag and tied above the campfire, slowly burning her to death, while Mike gets stabbed in the foot and leg by Jason's machete several times before he gets pulled through the floor (Jason was in a tunnel beneath the cabin). Richie gets his foot caught in a bear-trap set up by Jason and then gets the machete in the head. Jason kills the pervert who has the hockey mask by slashing his throat (originally, he sliced his head off and, after watching that alternate version of the kill, I think they really should have
stuck with it). While Nolan is driving a boat and Chelsea is water-skiing, Nolan gets an arrow right in the head (I thought the sight of Jason using that weapon was pretty cool, like, "Shit, Jason's packing!") and Chelsea eventually gets the machete in the top of her head after a long game of cat and mouse that ends with her hiding under the dock. Chewie gets a slow and painful death when he tries to stab Jason with a screwdriver and Jason grabs his hand, turns it around, and slow pushes it into his
neck. Lawrence gets an axe in the back and then Jason grabs him and slams him down, pushing the blade all the way through him. I'm not even sure how he kills Bree. He grabs her and then crushes her to death maybe or impales her on something on the door (it's so dark, you can't see). A cop that arrives at the house gets a poker shoved through his eye and all the way through his head. Trent gets the machete shoved all the way through him and then impaled on the back of a truck. Finally, Jenna
gets impaled by the machete as well. Jason himself supposedly meets his end when Clay ties a chain around his neck and the chain gets caught in a wood-chipper, slicing up the back of his head.

One of this film's strengths to me is that the environment does have an atmosphere to it. The woods and the surrounding area, especially the deserted Camp Crystal Lake, do feel very eerie, as does the way Jason's cabin looked. I thought the montage of deserted areas after Jason's supposed death was a nice, eerie touch as well. A lot of that atmosphere also has to do with the music. Steve Jablonsky, who has scored pretty much all of the Platinum Dunes remakes, does manage to create some eerie sounds and music, with the opening music and the cue that plays when Jason is sharpening his machete in his lair being particularly effective. I also really like the chase music that plays during the opening kills and the final fight between Clay and Jason, although the chase music that plays when the last ones finally leave the house is pretty forgettable. You do hear the infamous, "ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma," every now and again but I don't particularly like the way it sounds here so I'm not too disappointed that it's not used more often.

Ultimately, I think that Friday the 13th '09 was mostly a missed opportunity. It was cool to see Jason in a new film and I didn't mind the portrayal of him they went for but for the movie is just unremarkable for the most part. All of the original Paramount movies surpass it and, in fact, I'm not even sure if it's better than Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X. The tone just felt far too serious and it wasn't as fun as the past movies. I am glad that it wasn't quite as goofy as Freddy vs. Jason but, at the same time, that film, for all of its flaws, had more of the feel of the overall franchises and its kills and gore sequences were fun instead of feeling sadistic. And finally, this movie feels like it was something that was just thrown together in a by-the-numbers way by some people who didn't really care about the series and just wanted to make some money of it, which they did succeed in doing. However, all that said, I don't think it's unwatchable and that fans of the series should see Friday the 13th '09 at least once.

At the time I originally wrote this, it seemed like there was a script for a sequel to this film ready to go that simply needed studio approval in order to do so... and, nothing ever came of that. The rights to the franchise have since reverted back to Paramount and apparently there is another film planned but I don't know anything else about it. I've heard all sorts of things about that I can't confirm: that it's supposed to be yet another reboot set in wintertime instead of sequel, that it's going to be released in either November 2015 or spring of 2016, that Derek Mears will be back as Jason, etc. I don't know what the status is on the series' future. But ultimately, no matter what happens, I can't see Jason Voorhees going away any time soon, and no matter how bad any future movies may be, I will see them simply because I love that hockey-mask-wearing mama's boy. So, I hope you've enjoyed this little personal retrospective on Friday the 13th and I will see you next time.

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