Screen Rant Reviews A Nightmare On Elm Street

A Nightmare On Elm Street is yet another horror movie remake from Platinum Dunes, the same company behind the remakes of The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Like those films I just listed, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a slickly-polished but ultimately hollow echo of what was originally a unique and enjoyable horror movie.

In this revamped version, a group of teens in a small town begin to die inexplicably in their sleep. Each of the victims confesses to having vivid nightmares shortly before their death – nightmares involving a terrible burned man in a striped sweater who wears a razored glove on one hand. As more victims get added to the body count, two of the teens uncover their town’s dark secret and the origins of this mysterious ghoul who is terrorizing their dreams.

What made Wes Craven’s version of  A Nightmare On Elm Street so enjoyable was the combination of a scary premise (a killer who attacks you in your dreams), imaginative kills set in surreal dream sequences, and a wonderful villain, Freddy Krueger, played with alternating moments of wit, charm and menace by the now-legendary Robert Englund.

This new version, directed by music video director Samuel Bayer, only incorporates one aspect of that potent combination. The premise is this same, yes, but gone are the imaginative kills and wonderful villain that once made this franchise what it was.

The main problem (for me) was the script, which was written by Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia, The Saint) and relative newcomer Eric Heisserer. The screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street budgets its time rather foolishly, and the misstep shows. For starters, the writers chose to sacrifice the first half-hour of the film’s 90 minute runtime laying out the premise: Freddy stalks kids in their dreams and if he kills them there, they die in the real world. Do we really need a whole half-hour and multiple elaborate kill sequences to understand this? Certainly not, but that’s what we get…

It’s not even until the third victim is dispatched  (and the second act kicks off) that we really know who the main characters of the story are: Nancy Holbrook (Roona Mara) and her semi-crush Quentin O’Grady (Kyle Gallner). Nancy is the weirdo Goth artist of the high school pecking order, and Quentin is that cool kid jock who secretly pines for her – not that any of this matters.  By the time the film finally centers on its two leads, we’re already too far into the blood, gore, and “mystery” to care. Nancy and Quentin are merely vessels that  carry the story of Freddy Krueger along and that’s about as much development as they get.

After wasting 1/3 of the movie setting up a premise that could’ve been explained in minutes, the screenwriters then chose to drag the second act of the film through a mystery sub-plot involving the origins of Freddy Krueger and his vendetta against the teens. This sub-plot attempts to inject the story with “originality” by forcing us to wrestle with doubts about who Freddy Krueger is and what was done to him; but by the third act, most of those dangling threads are cut and the entire “mystery” becomes another shamefully wasted opportunity. I don’t even think there is one killing in the second half hour of the film – cheap jump scares and half-boiled plot points are pretty much what we get.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that for a story which invested so heavily in asking who Freddy Krueger is, most of the important story points – like how did Freddy end up with these dream powers? Why did he wait so long to reappear? What exactly does Elm Street have to do with any of this? – are left to speculation – or worse, a sequel. It’s simply lazy storytelling.

By far the worst offense though is the new take on Freddy himself. Robert Englund’s Freddy was an unapologetic bad guy – so evil in life that not even death could contain him. The character was simple, effective, and fun to watch in the way great villains are. The new Freddy is simply…creepy. By trying a ‘realistic and humanizing approach’ the new Elm Street actually deflates the horror icon, leaving us with a Freddy who is more off-putting than engaging.

Speaking of the razor-fingered man in the striped shirt, I’ll say this upfront:  Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, Little Children) is not a bad Freddy Krueger. To the contrary, in the menace department I think Haley far outshines Mr. Englund. The new Freddy is a stone-cold killer, stripped of all the winking humor and over-the-top theatrics. This is not a guy you want to meet in your dreams, ever, for any reason. And that both enhances and detracts from the film.

Whenever Freddy is meant to be scary, Haley knocks it out of the park. However, whenever Freddy is meant to be light or funny, Haley (as I’ve stated) comes off as awkwardly creepy and Elm Street‘s third act is especially off-putting in this way. A good horror film uses the supernatural as allegory for real-life events or issues – it doesn’t take real-life evil and rub your face in it. A Nightmare On Elm Street makes it clear (to me) that while “torture porn” horror might be a passing trend, the core idea of that sub-genre (reveling in the pain of others, be it physical, psychological or emotional) is now firmly embedded in the horror movie landscape.

When he was first announced, I thought director Samuel Bayer was going to bring serious creativity to this film, considering his past history directing music videos. And where there is opportunity, Bayer does impress with his visual flare – too bad those opportunities are few and far between. The script pretty much relies on rehashing Wes Craven’s wonderfully imagined kills from the original Elm Street or settling for flat and uninspired dream sequences that the story tries to justify with third act “explanations.”  Never has a movie about dreams – the most fertile device for narrative creativity – been so boring.

The acting? Meh. Whether it’s the modelesque faces of the young actors (Mara, Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz) or the familiar faces of the parents (Clancy Brown, Connie Britton), nobody really stands out in this film – not even Haley as Freddy, if I’m being totally honest. Everyone involved feels like they are requisites of the story without actually being important to it, and the actors go about their scenes as if they themselves are sleepwalking – so it’s kind of hard to care about whether they ever wake up or not.

We’ve said it before here at Screen Rant and we’ll say it again: if you’re going to remake a movie, bring something new and interesting to it – tell us the story in a way we haven’t heard it before. A Nightmare On Elm Street gets the latter part wrong in its narrative approach and completely disregards the former. Does it ruin Freddy Krueger? No. Does it revitalize him? The box office may indicate “yes,” but my heart says the opposite.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5