After six long years, Jason finally returns to the big screen in a reimagining of the franchise, a grittier reboot from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In this new Friday the 13th, the silent, hockey-masked killer takes aim at a group of young people who are staying at a nearby summer home. In other words, though everything has changed, nothing has changed.
Friday the 13th, though it's the longest-running horror franchise, has always been the dreck of the genre. Take the least imaginative killer with the dumbest of stories and the worst filmmaking and you get this franchise, one that can hardly tout being scary or clever. If any franchise needed a reboot, it was Friday the 13th, and if any director could do that, it would be Marcus Nispel, who is responsible for setting of this wave of remakes in the first place. The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre was excellent, with improved acting, glossy yet gritty direction and a more developed story that amped up the spookiness of the slaughter.
Unfortunately, Nispel - and writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift - do not expand greatly on the mythology of Jason. Fans of the franchise will be delighted; for the rest of us, the three-minute recap to start of the film comes off as a weak replacement for the original 1980 picture. Nana Visitor's Mrs. Voorhees doesn't compare to Betsy Palmer's spooky incarnation, and if the source story is going to be relegated to an opening credits flashback, one wonders why Nispel bothered at all.
Beyond that, however, this new Friday the 13th is an entertaining, satisfying ride. The screenplay is still lame, with stodgy dialogue encircling one-dimensional characters that were written by someone who believes that all young people but the good girl like to light up The Magical Weed and drink until they can't walk. Some of the characters are annoyingly stereotypical, like the rich asshole who hates everyone, the token black guy who brings up race a few too many times and the crazy Asian guy who likes to drink beer out of his own shoe. Less annoying are the stereotypical females, who do what they're supposed to do in a movie like this: get naked, flaunt their stuff and fool around.
Friday the 13th has more than enough nudity and sex to satisfying slasher fans, and combined with some gore and lots and lots of deaths, all of the complaints above are rendered moot. No one expects these films to be much more than shallow slaughters, and Friday the 13th meets those expectations stupendously. Most of the actors involved are actually halfway decent, including several recognizable faces. Jared Padalecki is the second "Supernatural" star to get a revived horror franchise this year (his is much better than his co-star's remake of My Bloody Valentine), and you'll also identify Danielle Panabaker and Amanda Righetti.
More importantly, once the deaths begin, they do not let up. Well, not really. Aside from the opening credits, Nispel does deliver a fantastic opening, giving us a good 20-minute mini-story that develops its own characters as if they were to be a part of the entire story arc, only to surprise us by killing off each and every one of them just as quickly. Then the title flashes on the screen, and we realize, "Shit, that was just the prelude." Sadly, the deaths aren't as imaginative as one would expect and the gore not nearly as complex as found in other recent films such as The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension or even Rambo. Still, quantity over quantity works to its advantage here.
I also liked the subtle complexities added to Jason's character, like the kidnapping of the woman who looks like his mother (a similarity to Part 2) and the signs of some intelligence implanted into the beastly character. The addition of the mines, alarm system and other little things make Jason feel like a real character without delving much into his psyche.
Friday the 13th is a fun, exciting horror flick that does a good job of rebooting a franchise that was tired more than 20 years ago. Nispel could have gone to greater lengths to avoid the cheesy stereotypes rather than embrace them, but it all works out in the end. Fans will be delighted that Jason has been reinvigorated, while non-fans will be happy that the series isn't as absurdly bad as it once was. However, if Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is any indication, we should not be looking forward to the sequel.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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