Short version: This fresh take on the original Friday the 13th actually works.
Screen Rant reviews Friday the 13th
This review of Friday the 13th is for people who are fans of the 1980s style of slasher horror movies.
If you are not into movies whose sole purpose is to display gore, a variety of ways to kill people (who you probably wouldn't mind seeing come to a grisly end), sex and nudity via thinly developed characters, then move along folks - nothing to see here.
If however you're looking for an R-rated horror thrill on the big screen, read on.
Now it's a well established fact here on Screen Rant that for the most part I am not a fan of movie remakes. Most of them are made simply to cash in on a well known film and they're usually poorly done and bring nothing new to the story put forth in the original. While I did see the the Dawn of the Dead remake which came out in 2004, I haven't seen Rob Zombie's version of Halloween, nor director Marcus Nispel's version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Neither of those was very well received.
The latter is relevant because Nispel also directed this update of Friday the 13th, and I have to say I think he did a decent job of rebooting the world of Jason Voorhees. The original film was released in 1980 and cost a whopping $700,000 to produce (about $1.8MM in today's dollars). This new version cost about 10X that much, but frankly, you don't really see that on the screen. Then again I guess anything under $20 million is considered low budget these days.
Anyway, enough history... what about THIS one?
I have a feeling even among slasher film fans, there will be a split on this one - personally I thought the director did a great job of refreshing the story/franchise for 2009.
The film opens right off the bat with a connection to the original - before the familiar Paramount Studios mountain is off the screen we here the trademark "ch-ch-ch, ah-ah-ah" from the older films. From there we are thrust right into a girl being chased through the woods on a stormy night (summer, 1980), shown in black and white. As it turns out we're looking at the final moments in the original film, where the lone surviving girl from the film faces off against Jason's mother.
From there we cut to present day with a bunch of young twenty-somethings out in the woods backpacking - it soon becomes known that the reason they're out in the middle of nowhere is to look for a marijuana garden out in the middle of the woods. A couple of them fancy themselves entrepreneurs and are thinking about all the cash they'll make off selling the pot.
We have your standard cliche cross-section of characters: The "good" couple, the geek, the hot babe, and the jerk. Within about 10 minutes of the film starting you'll have already heard about 7 f-bombs and seen one pair of obviously synthetic breasts. Oh yes, this is indeed rated R, and we haven't even gotten to the gore.
They're camped out right outside Camp Crystal Lake and "geek boy" tells the story of Jason and how his mother killed a bunch of camp counselors almost 30 years ago. He goes off to relieve himself and finds the pot garden, while the "good" couple (the girl is concerned about her sick mom and feels bad for having left for the weekend) wander into Camp Crystal Lake proper and end up exploring an old run down house. I don't have to tell you who lives in it. Meanwhile hot babe and jerk boy end up having sex in a tent.
Now that everyone is sufficiently separated, Jason appears to kill them all one at a time, each in a different and gruesome way. This all happens within about the first 20 minutes of the film, so you're immediately thrust into the action and ramped up to 60mph. I was wondering how they could kill off all the characters so quickly, just when the opening title FRIDAY THE 13TH appears on the screen, and the audience cheered. My thought was basically "oh man, you mean this is only really getting started now?"
So fast forward another six weeks and we meet another group of primarily obnoxious young folks. We have the rich guy who thinks he's king of the world, the sweet girl who for some reason is his girlfriend, a black fellow who loves to jokingly pull the race card on his buddies to yank their chains, a brawny guy and his babe girlfriend, and an Asian guy (a pretty funny Aaron Yoo) who is the comedian of the bunch.
Rich guy and girlfriend run into Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), the brother of one of the girls we saw in the previous scenes - he's distributing flyers stating she's missing and he is determined to find her. The party crew goes off to rich boy's daddy's expensive cabin in the woods while Clay goes around town on his beater motorcycle looking for anyone who's seen his sister.
Eventually Clay and rich guy's girlfriend come across Jason's (Derek Mears) cabin and see him bringing home a dead body. Soon thereafter, one by one the party gang are picked off by Jason until we're down to only a couple of survivors.
Now for "purists," you need to understand that even though this has been called a remake of Friday the 13th, it's more accurately a remake of Friday the 13th Part 2, as it picks up right at the end of the first film. For the film to have Jason as the antagonist, there was really no other way to do it. Now as to the variety of "kills," I've heard complaints that they weren't "creative" enough, but geez... Jason dispatches his victims in this film using a machete, bow & arrow, fireplace poker, antlers, screwdriver, bear trap, fire and even an impalement for good measure.
I liked that they brought Jason back to the basics - gone is the quasi-supernatural aspect of the character. Here he's just a huge dude who likes to kill people (up until the very end where they bend that way a bit). They don't run for five minutes and then he suddenly appears ahead of them and that sort of thing. I found him to be very physically imposing and brutal. The film had lots of nods to the first two or three films, right down to the ending which was a definite hat tip.
I even felt a bit of suspense and dread during the movie, which didn't resort to an endless number of "jump scares" that are so common in PG-13 horror movies. Oh sure, it had a few but it didn't depend on that as its primary scare tactic.
So what's not so great? There's no real getting to know the characters here - they're all pretty much cardboard cut outs set up like bowling pins just so they can get killed. There was one scene that just really didn't fit and was obviously inserted into the film just to show you how Jason ends up with a hockey mask (he starts out with a burlap bag on his head). Also, after the adrenaline-pumping opening 20 minutes, the rest of the film just wasn't able to quite measure up and it suffered for it.
Overall though I thought it was a fresh take on the 1980s slasher genre that accomplishes what it sets out to do: Scare the heck out of you.
But for God's sake - LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME for this one.