If you get right down to it, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a movie about people trying not to doze off. Having just watched it, I know how they feel. OH SNAP!
There was no reason to remake the 1985 slasher classic, of course, except that “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” had already been remade, and why not finish the set? But surely it could have been done with greater care than is evident here. The idea of a villain who stalks you in your dreams is inherently creepy — or, rather, it ought to be. Leave it to the remake wizards to vacuum all the terror out of something as easy as that.
In the town of Springwood, Ohio, some of the local teens are plagued by nightmares in which a melty-faced, razor-fingered maniac named Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) harasses them. It is established that whatever Freddy does to you in your dream happens in real life, too. So, for example, if Freddy gives you a wedgie, you’ll wake up with a wedgie. Or if he slices you in half with a machete, your sleeping body will be rent in twain by an invisible force.
Among the nondescript teens so tormented are Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and Nancy (Rooney Mara), who are both brooding and dark anyway. Somewhat lighter, though still morose, are Kris (Katie Cassidy) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker). Oh, and Dean (Kellan Lutz), but don’t get used to him being around.
Look, I’m not going to mince words. Some of these characters die. What’s disappointing is that not one of them dies in an interesting fashion. Freddy mostly employs traditional methods such as stabbing and slicing, and everyone’s dreamworld seems to be a boiler room, the kind where there’s always lots of clanging and steam and whatnot. Everything that happens, ever, to anyone, is accompanied by knife-sharpening sound effects and bursts of “scary” music. This is Scary Movie Making 101, and first-time director Samuel Bayer (he made music videos before this) may be required to repeat the course.
Does it need to be said that the screenplay — written by Wesley Strick (“Cape Fear,” “Arachnophobia”) and rewritten by Eric Heisserer (his first film credit) — has the characters speaking only the most generic dialogue? And that the characters themselves have no discernible personality traits? And that there are no real “protagonists,” per se, only characters who manage to not get killed? This does not need to be said? OK.
What the film does get right is Freddy Krueger. The later sequels in the original franchise turned him into a joke, a one-liner-dispensing fraud without an ounce of scariness. The new Freddy gets back to basics. Played with malevolent glee by Jackie Earle Haley, this Freddy is good and creepy, the way nature and Wes Craven intended. Too bad he’s trapped in a nightmare of his own: a movie devoid of wit, originality, inspiration, or suspense. Wake me up when they come out with something new.
D (1 hr., 35 min.; )