I’m going to start by saying that, generally, I am not a fan of horror films, with the scariest film I’ve personally seen probably being Alien. That said, I went into 2009’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake expecting something at least moderately scary, with an interesting and perhaps thought-provoking plot to boot. Boy, I was pretty wrong.
A Nightmare on Elm Street follows a group of high schools students headed by Nancy (pre-Social Network Rooney Mara) as they find themselves being mysteriously killed in their sleep by the same blade-handed, sweater-wearing killer. As the revolting past of their executioner is uncovered, they have to ward off sleeping to bring Freddy Kruger (Jackie Earle Haley) down.
Let’s get straight into this by having a look at the plot. Now, I haven’t seen Wes Craven’s 1984 original, but the story portrayed in this film is generally quite weak. It follows the tropes of every slasher movie ever: a group of young, horny teens getting slaughtered and having to work out why and how to stop it. Even the elements that don’t follow this template are borrowed from Craven’s original, so the most interesting features of the film, such as the inability to sleep, are nothing special in themselves. The film falls into a pitfall, because by attempting to remake such a seminal, nuanced piece of horror cinema it is bound to stumble when it simply doesn’t have the invention that the original did. That said, there were some story elements that I did find quite interesting that weren’t a part of the original, primarily that of Freddy’s backstory and past, something that I won’t spoil but did find pretty daring, something a lot of modern horrors wouldn’t consider doing.
Acting, on the same hand, majorly failed to impress me. Despite Rooney Mara currently being on top of the world thanks to her roles in massive films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Carol, her performance is undeniably poor here, and it’s quite easy to see why she nearly quit acting after making this one. Her performance and delivery is nothing but bland, without a tinge of emotion, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast. Arrow‘s Katie Cassidy does a good enough job of trying to inject some emotion into affairs, but her accidentally hammy performance does its best to reverse what was an adequate turn. The only other performance worth mentioning is Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy: I’m a huge fan of him as Rorschach in Watchmen, but his performance here isn’t quite up to that level. He’s the best one here by a country mile, but that isn’t to say his performance is all that good, it’s just the shiniest turd of them all.
From a tech-based standpoint, this film really doesn’t shine either. This was director Samuel Bayer’s first (and seemingly last) feature film, and it’s easy to tell: cinematography is bland and just about gets the job done, the scares are choreographed poorly with no innovation whatsoever, and the script is jam-packed with cliches and hamfisted dialogue typical of a B-movie, not a remake of one of horror’s biggest triumphs. Not to mention, the CGI is quite simply abysmal: the recreation of the classic blood-pouring-through-bedroom scene, previously done with practical effects, has here been desecrated by awful CGI, and with a budget of just over $30 million, it’s not hard to see why. The design of Freddy himself is pretty poor as well: Robert Englund’s Freddy is designed to be a thing of nightmares, and the practical effects used to make Freddy looked scarred really did the trick, but here, the over-reliance of CGI makes Freddy look a bit more like one of the Na’vi from Avatar rather than a demonic child murderer.
A Nightmare on Elm Street feels like a culmination of a number of errors – the hiring of an inexperienced director, the pressure of remaking a seminal horror film, lack of studio confidence – but that doesn’t mean this film had to be such a trainwreck. There’s very little here worth praising, and it’s pretty hard to recommend to anyone, but if you want a popcorn slasher to poke holes in for a good time, then this will do the job just fine.