12 February 2009

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th

Sex, drugs, decapitation, a young woman burned alive—all before we even see the words Friday the 13th on the screen.

This re-imagining of the classic 1980 slasher movie has everything fans of the series would expect. And it’s made with more care and keeps a much firmer grip on reality than most of the sequels churned out throughout the ’80s.

Rather than a straight remake of the original Friday the 13th—we see Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) only in a short prologue, in which we learn she has killed all but one of the Camp Crystal Lake counselors following her son’s drowning and see her demise at the hands of the lone survivor—screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Freddy Vs. Jason) borrow elements from several of the earlier movies. The result is a film that feels both new and familiar—an admirable achievement, whether you’re a fan of this kind of movie or not.

The new Jason, portrayed by veteran stuntman Derek Mears, has survived for years on his own in the woods surrounding Crystal Lake. It’s his territory and the locals know to keep their distance. He’s a hunter who navigates the terrain through underground tunnels, which helps explain why he’s so stealthy for such a big man. For the first time, Jason actually runs to keep up with his victims. In a nod to Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), he begins the film covering his disfigured face with a sack; he finds his iconic hockey mask later.

Ostensibly, the movie’s hero is Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki, a fairly big guy himself and a worthy adversary for Jason), a young man looking for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti). His search crosses the path of a group of party animals heading to a cabin near Crystal Lake. Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) tries to help him, but her boyfriend, Trent (Travis Van Winkle), is less obliging.

Once at the cabin, they almost immediately start with the drinking, smoking and sex—hey, no time for the movie to dillydally when it has a psychopath itching to start offing people willy-nilly. Any astute horror movie fan should be able to determine not only who will die, but also the approximate order in which they will be added to the body count.

Director Marcus Nispel, who also has the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (2003) on his resume, does a fair job of building suspense—even though much of it comes from the anticipation of how Jason will take his next victim, rather than as a result of placing the audience in the victim’s shoes. The director’s greatest ally is cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl, who shot both the 1974 and 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacres. His foreboding tracking shots set the ominous mood from the start.

This new Friday the 13th compares favorably to the earlier movies in the series, which were made quickly and cheaply. It’s also the best of the recent slasher remakes, topping “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” because it lacks that movie’s unrelenting cruelty. In this one, Jason earns a bit of sympathy.

If nothing else, I’m more interested in the prospect of another Friday the 13th Part 2 than I am Saw VI.

Grade: B-

(Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material. 97 minutes.)

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