“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep,” said Nancy in the original 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street – advice that must be heeded if one is make it through this dour reimagining of Wes Craven‘s classic.
It’s not that the concept hasn’t more mileage – even after eight films (if you count Freddy vs. Jason), the stripey-jumpered, bladefingered, disfigured Freddy Krueger remains as iconic as ever, and the dream-stalking premise offers endless scope for visual ingenuity. It’s more that this movie is a victim of the Michael Bay’s homogenising horror remake machine, Platinum Dunes, the production company that’s already sapped the audacious low-budget character from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and Friday the 13th.
Similarly this new version of Nightmare feels less like the work of the stylish musicvideo director Samuel Bayer than that of a committee, rehashing the expected slasher tropes with little originality. Even the famous set pieces, such as the iconic telekinetic bedroom slaying and the vision of Freddy’s hand emerging from the bathtub are mishandled in the absence of Craven’s specific timing. Worse, the film fails to deliver scares beyond the lazy and predictable loud noise-designed-to-make-you-jump gimmick, which quickly becomes more grating than frightening.
Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger, scary in the original, a one-liner joke machine in the sequels of diminishing returns, is replaced here by Jackie Earle Haley’s more sinister and realistic creation. Oddly though, Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer’s script has made him more sympathetic than mythical, turning the kids’ parents – those responsible for Krueger’s burn-victim appearance – into the real villains. Like the feeble attempts to characterise the 20-somethings targeted by Freddy, this is a thread that’s left hanging.
Haley, rehashing his Rorschach growl from Watchmen is, however, solid as Kruger, and Rooney Mara is effective as protagonist Nancy. The rest of the cast are merely non-descript fodder for Krueger’s knives; there’s no future Johnny Depp lurking in the background here. Regrettably too, this version also removes any is-it-or-isn’t-it a dream ambiguity that made the original so compelling, completely wasting what is still one of the most intriguing premises of any horror. This new Nightmare is just that.