Rating: 2 out of 5
When Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in America in 1984, it capitalised on a blend of primal terror and bourgeoisie paranoia: what if some depraved working-class sexual predator were to infiltrate the comforts of (white) suburbia and prey on innocent children?
It was an uncomfortable premise but one that still resonated with audiences. Craven’s movie was a box-office hit, and marked the birth of a cultural icon: the disfigured, blade-wielding Freddy Krueger. Freddy would live and die and live again through seven woeful sequels, including Ronny Yu’s 2003 Freddy vs. Jason.
Now, fast forward to 2010, and the American zeitgeist has evolved considerably. The demon of Elm Street may be seen as something of an obsolete nightmare.
But that hasn’t stopped producer Michael Bay and director Samuel Bayer (a veteran music video director) from rebooting Freddy, both for die-hard followers and a new, digital-age teen audience. (What’s a franchise for if it’s not to make more money?)
Still, the new ANightmare on Elm Street, a glossy, studious imitation of the original, is unlikely to provide either fans or newbies a refreshing bang for their buck.
As in the original, the new Freddy shows up in the dreams of a group of high school students in the leafy town of Springwood, Ohio.
The killer squirms out of wallpaper, rises through a bathtub, even claws his way into a high-security prison to maul one of the teenagers. (Sound familiar? The film’s nods to its predecessors are numerous.)
The kids don’t understand why this hideous figure – wearing a gardener’s hat and the ugliest sweater Grandma ever knit – keeps menacing them, forcing them to turn to caffeine and a host of other stimulants to keep them awake.
Again, as in the original, the reason for this collective haunting has to do with the kids’ repressed memory of a pre-school child abuser, whom the parents burnt to death in a fearful act of vigilante justice.
The difference is that in Nightmare 2.0, screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer make the unlikely and ultimately hokey assertion that Freddy might have been innocent of the heinous crimes he was accused of.
Here, the casting of Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy is the filmmakers’ single mark of inspiration.
Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a hapless paedophile in Todd Field’s Little Children (2006), has an unusual knack for balancing degeneracy with humanity; if anyone could top the lurid, cackling original Freddy previously embodied by Robert Englund, it would be him.
Unfortunately it never happens. Even Haley can do little with his tawdry lines and lame sexual puns (“How’s this for a wet dream?”), and the new Nightmare, trafficking in the most predictable of scare tactics, emerges as a paltry, unscary imitation of Wes Craven’s classic.
About Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and Kidnapper (2010). Kidnapper premiered in Singapore in March and was released in Malaysia on May 13.