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Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Freddy Krueger's silhouette
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - Warner Bros. Pictures

The 2000s can be seen as something of a creative milestone for Hollywood, one which saw the beginning of a drought of fresh ideas and innovative themes, and in its absence, a surge of cash-in reboots and low-budget retellings, all based on long-dormant intellectual properties bloomed.

One particular victim that saw its fruits plucked dry in the wake of this remake-renaissance was the horror genre - the red-headed stepchild of the film industry. From Japanese ghost stories to Hammer Horror classics; nothing was safe from the shadowy reach of corporate fat cats looking for a low-risk / high-reward payday. The worst hit was the legendary slasher genre, with icons such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface being introduced to a whole new generation.

Unlike the originals however which used vivid imagery, technically impressive practical effects and a sense of creeping dread to captivate their audiences, remakes focus on recognisable teenage heartthrob actors, computer generated special effects and jump-scares to put asses in seats. And in this sense, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) does not disappoint.

Freddy Krueger's glove breaching the water of a bath tub
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - New Line Cinema

The plot follows the same beats as the original; A group of teens living in the suburban town of Springwood are being tormented and killed off one-by-one in their sleep by a man with knives for fingers who has some link to the towns dark past. The only major difference this time around is that more emphasis has been put on Freddy Krueger's past and how it links with the kids. It's interesting to note that remakes have a strong tendency to favour fleshed-out backstories of its antagonists in contrast to the less-is-more stance the originals took, and while I feel this can eliminate a lot of the mystique of the character, it can certainly be done right, and when it is, it can really immerse you in the mythos of the character.

There were few tense moments throughout the entire film's runtime, mostly due to the whole thing feeling incredibly rushed with scenes happening so quickly alongside strange camera tricks and numerous jump-cuts edited in that there was hardly time to process, though the film is so light on plot, atmosphere and character depth that maybe the camera trickery works in its favour. I recall that in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy was mostly obscured by shadows and it wasn't until the end he's fully visible, while in the second movie you barely ever see him in any prolonged light, but 15 minutes into the remake and I've already seen what the killer looks like in a well-lit environment. I can only imagine that subtlety was not an option for the studio this time around and they were impatient to show off their new and unimproved Krueger.

There also seems to be a lot less emphasis on the sanitised suburban imagery that Wes Craven felt added a layer of sinister, with white picket fences and manicured lawns serving as a thin-veneer to the dark secret shared by the community's older generation. It's all still there, it just takes much more of a subtle approach, and of all the things the film had to be subtle on, it simply had to be that. Some of the best moments from the original are present, sans the practical effects, so it's just retreading familiar waters but with all sense of charm removed from the equation. The bath-tub scene, the classroom and bodybag scenes are all here, and ironically these are the most memorable moments of the new movie as it brings so little of its own to the table.

One of the most egregious flaws to this film was the scene in which the best friend to the main protagonist is killed - The original has audiences endure the prolonged death scene as Tina is slashed, thrown into a corner and slowly dragged up the walls while screaming for help before splattering in a pool of blood in her bed. The remake sees Kris flying around the room like a drunken, unconscious Peter Pan before being slashed and falling onto the bed in a brief, uninspiring scene. At least the new movie did something right with the plot by removing the Home Alone-esque trap scene.

Freddy Krueger scratching on a chalk board
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - New Line Cinema

Freddy himself has changed quite considerably this time around. He's not as memorable as the original Robert Englund rendition, but that is too tall an order, and that's not to say that Jackie Earle Hayley doesn't bring anything to the role. Hayley added a hand twitch to the character, scraping the blades of his fingers together rapidly as he motioned them back and forth which I felt was a good touch. Visually, Freddy now looks like an actual burn victim, with scarring and disfigurement to match, so his movements seem more stiff and a lot less animated than Englund. That's not to say you seem him moving a lot, as he always just appears behind people 90% of the time accompanied with with a loud shrill noise to boost those jump-scare reactions.

Freddy's tactics are noticeably weak and boring; but I suppose that's to be expected from a killer who can control your dreams and literally do anything, right? Despite the limitations of the 80s, the original film still managed to have one victim hanged by his own bedsheet and another sucked into a bed and spat out as a geyser of blood. Maybe the studio were taking a more realistic, dark tone than the preceding series, but that still doesn't explain why everyone just gets killed with a slash to the chest or a knives-through-stomach action. If you're going to tease me by showing off that you can come out of the wall and turn the floor into liquid, then do something with that imagination.

Englund's Freddy was well known for his menacing witticisms and gallows humour, while Jackie Earle Hayley's version has mostly replaced the sadism with anger, and a killer having a good time as he flays his victims is much more terrifying than a killer with a chip on his shoulder. Hayley actually had some good lines in this film, though by the end I felt he just wouldn't shut up. It took Freddy several movies to jump from one-liners to full blown conversations, and get away with keeping his terrifying persona, but there were too many scenes of Hayley just talking, which stripped away too much of the fear factor.

Child victims of Freddy Krueger
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - New Line Cinema

While the teen characters of the original were generally upbeat and positive, each with with their own traits and personalities, the new cast have little in the way of unique characteristics beyond their hairstyles. All of the actors are constantly shadowed by a looming cloud of despondence, making it hard to tell where one depressed teen ends and another begins, so any sense of empathy for these soon-to-be victims is abandoned on impact. I'm taking into consideration that this could be a conscious decision as by the beginning of the film the teens are already losing sleep due to their nightmares, and malaise is more of a in-line with today's target teen audience, and in that sense is perhaps the right decision, but it's at the cost of building out the characters to be individuals the audience care for or relate to.

Craven knew that it would be more of an impact to see the decay of the teens from jovial to terrified as the film went on, and it's the contrast between the sterilised sheen of American suburbia and the sodden corruption of it in Freddy's dream world that makes for incredible visuals, which just makes me think that the story is so much more effective in the 80s than 00s.

In summary - I felt I spent far too much of my time looking for redeeming qualities for this film and coming back with my hands empty, mostly due to my love for the originals. I feel in order for someone to enjoy this film, take everything you know and loved about the originals, set it on fire, and hope it doesn't come back to haunt your kids when the next inevitable reboot comes out.

Freddy Krueger tormenting a victim
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - New Line Cinema