Michael Bay's production company, Platinum Dunes, has made a habit of remaking contemporary classic horror films into modern blockbusters for the next generation. The company began in 2003 with their re-imagining of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and they have continued to make one successful film after another out of contemporary horror classics including "The Amityville Horror," "The Hitcher" and "Friday the 13th." So of course it was only a matter of time before they would decide to take a stroll down Elm Street and resurrect one of the most famous movie villains of all time ... Freddy Krueger. Their latest film is a re-imagining of the 1984 horror film classic, "A Nightmare On Elm Street," and in my opinion it is by far the best remake that the company has made yet. The movie is a dark, realistic and extremely disturbing reinvention of the original series and the changes that were made were perfectly selected and executed with brilliance. The entire cast is excellent but it is Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley's brilliant performance as the iconic villain that will really terrify you and actually give you nightmares for a week.
The film begins much differently than the original and shows our heroine, Nancy (played with graceful vulnerability by Rooney Mara), working as a waitress in a local dinner. We are introduced to a very freaked out Dean, played by Kellan Lutz, who has been up for days and doesn't want to go to sleep because he believes that there is a man in his dreams trying to kill him. He tells this to the very pretty Kris (Katie Cassidy) who wants to help Dean, much to the disapproval of her boyfriend Jesse (an intense Thomas Dekker). Jesse is sitting a few tables over with his buddies, which includes Quentin (excellently portrayed by Kyle Gallner) who has a crush on Nancy. Dean falls asleep and meets this evil man, face to burnt face. Of course, Dean does not survive the encounter but to his friends it just looks like suicide. Kris is haunted by Dean's death and becomes concerned when she begins to have the same nightmares about a burnt man wearing a hat, striped sweater and a glove with razors on the fingers. The dreams also all take place in a boiler room of a nursery school. Jesse confronts Kris and when she reveals to him her secret, he confesses to have had the same nightmare too.
We soon find out that Nancy has also been having these nightmares for some while now and it has made her into a shy, reserved, loner who paints dark and gothic images in her room all night so she doesn't fall asleep. Quentin, who's father is the principal at their school (the great Clancy Brown), is also afflicted with the same dreams and begins to think that Nancy might know what is going on when he sees a younger version of her in his dreams. Meanwhile, Kris and Jesse decide to spend the night together so they'll be safe. When Jesse is unable to wake Kris she is killed in her dream, but to Jesse she levitates over the bed and then is cut open from the inside. Jesse runs in fear of being blamed for the murder but is quickly caught and arrested. He realizes that he has just been given a death sentence and will be dead as soon as he falls asleep in his cell, which is exactly what happens. As Quentin and Nancy begin to talk they realize that their dreams are connected and that they may have both knew each other in pre-school. Not remembering knowing any of their friends before high school the two kids go to see Nancy's mother (well played by Connie Britton) and ask her for the truth. At first she denies that they ever new each other or went to pre-school together but as Nancy and Quentin do more investigating they realize that she was lying. They all knew each other and had been in the same class. They also find out that every former student that had complained of sever nightmares had wound up dead and that they were the only two left. Quentin has ADD and has been taking his medication to stay awake but when he runs out of his prescription and can't get more, he finally falls asleep.
However this time rather than torturing Quentin, the man who has been haunting his dreams decides to show him the truth ... or so we think? He reveals his origin in a flashback, which involved being falsely accused by the parents of sexually abused children that went to the nursery school where he was a custodian. Quentin watches on as an angry mob, that includes his father and Nancy's mother, chase this defenseless man into an abandoned warehouse and then lights it on fire and watches it burn. That man was ... Freddy Kruger. Now awake, Quentin confronts his father for the truth. He claims that killing Freddy was an accident but that he deserved it because he really was molesting the kids and that Nancy, especially, was his favorite. Neither Nancy or Quentin can remember being abused and therefore begin to think that their parents are the ones who committed the hanis crime and that is why Freddy is after them, to seek his revenge for being wrongly murdered. In Nancy's last encounter with Freddy in the dream world she is able to rip off a piece of his sweater and bring it back with her. This leads Quentin to think that Nancy might be the key to stopping Freddy. The two kids then travel to their old nursery school in the hopes of confronting Freddy. The plan is to have Nancy fall asleep so that Quentin can wake her up, she can bring Freddy back and they can finally put an end to the nightmares. However, things do not go as planned and as the actual truth about what really happened all those years ago becomes clearer to Nancy and Quentin, things go from bad to worse. Now Nancy must face the truth, her past and Freddy himself if she has any hope of saving herself or Quentin.
While I don't want to give away the very end of the film, lets just say that it was very much in the spirit of the original and leaves a door open for sequels. All and all I have to say that I really liked the changes to the film from the original. In the post-"Saw" world it makes sense that you would want a dark, creepy and disturbing Freddy Kruger, which is something we really haven't seen before. While the original "A Nightmare On Elm Street" was much darker than the later series became, it was nowhere close to being this dark and that was fun to watch. This is a REALLY SCARY HORROR MOVIE and that is fantastic! While the dark tone is what they were going for with this movie, and I do think that was the right choice, I did miss a little of the fun and humor from the original series and I think perhaps if they had let just a little of that in, it would have made the film more enjoyable to watch. That being said, I think Jackie Earle Haley did an amazing job of taking over the role from Robert Englund and I realize that this is a different Freddy. The make-up and look of the character was great and I appreciated that they really made him look like a burn victim, I just wish we could have seen the expression in his eyes a little better. But again, this is not a funny or witty Freddy; this is a scary Freddy so maybe that was for the best. I also have to mention that Haley did something I found brilliant, in many scenes he would rub his two front claws together and they would make a spark. I thought this was extremely menacing and made absolute sense for his character to do.
I enjoyed most of the other changes as well. The fact that Freddy could have been an innocent martyr in all of this is a stroke of genius and really leaves even fans of the original guessing for a while. It just makes this film fresher and more original. You sympathize with Haley's Freddy more and it makes the big reveal at the end that much more shocking. I really enjoyed seeing the origin story on screen rather than being told about it like in the original. With the exception of Nancy and Freddy, all of the characters in the film are new, albeit mostly composites of the originals. Nancy has no policeman father in this one but Quentin's dad kind of fills those shoes. Nancy's mom doesn't have the glove in the basement, take her to the sleep clinic or put bars on the windows. Nancy isn't considered crazy in this movie but I do like the changes they made to the character. It is inline with how a real girl would act who has been put through an ordeal like this. I also really appreciated the modern updates, like using the Internet to research the history of Freddy and the nursery or using ADD drugs to stay awake (they just drank coffee in the original). All and all I think the changes that were made were appropriate and the right choices for this remake but I still think the film could have benefited from a small dose of humor. That being said, that is not the movie that the filmmakers set out to make and I respect that. They set out to make one hell of a scary film and they definitely succeeded in that.
The young actors in the film were all very good especially Dekker and Gallner, who both show a lot of potential on the big screen. In addition, I was quite struck by Mara's performance as Nancy, which I thought was very vulnerable and layered. Samuel Bayer's direction is good and it was great to see him include iconic moments from the first film like the bathtub scene and the ending. This is director Bayer's feature film debut but he has been one of the top music video directors for decades having been the man behind Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, so you know that visually this movie is very exciting. The script was great and again, I really thought the choice to leave Freddy's innocents in question was brilliant. Showing the origin was also great and something as a fan that I have been waiting a long time to see on screen. I do think the plot got a little messy towards the third act but they turned that around quickly and ended with one hell of a bang. But it was really the amazing performance of Jackie Earle Haley that makes this film work. He's not better than Englund, just different. THEY ARE TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FREDDY KRUGERS! Englund's was a fun, trickster-type where Haley's is creepy and truly disturbing and that's fine. It is a brilliant choice for today's blood-screaming audience. In the end, "A Nightmare On Elm Street" captures all the disturbing creepiness of Wes Craven's classic and filters it into an even darker and creepier film that is perfect for the modern day movie audience. Just remember ... this isn't your daddy's Freddy!
A Nightmare on Elm Street is out April 30, 2010.