Monday, February 23, 2009

Film Review - FRIDAY THE 13TH: Kill-Kill-Kill Yawn-Yawn-Yawn...

I suppose once one has trekked to New York, Elm Street and into the farthest reaches of space, doing bloody battle with the likes of hyperkinetic teenage girls, Freddy Krueger and Kevin Bacon along the way, there isn't really anywhere left to go but home again. So throw out the "Welcome" mat and sharpen the rusty machete, because Mr. Jason Voorhees has returned once more, to stake his claim on Crystal Lake, in the Michael Bay-guided "re-imagination" of the 1980 slasher-shocker Friday the 13th. All horny, nubile youngsters - and those hoping for good cinema - should consider themselves forewarned...

Opening with a brief black-and-white flash-back to the beheading of crazy ol' Mrs. Voorhees, Friday the 13th quickly jolts forward, tossing viewers into the creakiest of Slasher-film set-ups: the drunken camping party in the woods. A group of hip-talkin' youths, in search of an elusive much-rumoured marijuana crop, gather around a fire and tutor the audience and each other in the brutal, blood-spattered history of Crystal Lake. Nevertheless, no sooner do they finish their stilted, forbidding exposition before breaking off into duos to investigate, intoxicate and copulate. Three guesses what happens next.

Fast-forward to six weeks later, where we're introduced to the dogged Clay Miller (competent straight-man Jared Padalecki), a strapping young man in search of his missing sister. Having no luck with the local half-wits, who are iron-willed subscribers to the age-old rule that silence is golden, Clay fatefully crosses paths with a group of party-animal twenty-something's who are setting up shop in an expansive lakeside beach house. As is traditionally the case though, little merry-making is done before the lurking presence of Jason Voorhees descends on the hapless good-time goofballs. As the butchered bodies start piling up, it's up to our intrepid hero and obligatory nice-girl Jenna (perky Danielle Panabaker) to try to find help and elude the marauding combat-booted boogeyman lurking in the pitch darkness.

If this all sounds a little familiar to those of you who have endured any of Jason's eleven previous eviscerating exploits – I've made seven tours myself – you'll find precious little to celebrate with this new Friday the 13th. Perhaps wary of offending the legions of dedicated Friday-philes, who collectively fumed with irritation over the low-rent campy capers Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, new series producers Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and director Marcus Nispel have gone to great self-conscious effort to deliver a generic grade-C product virtually devoid of depraved imagination.

While layered story-telling in the Friday universe is obviously a big no-no, the best series instalments have depended on a kicky-cool mix of deliciously sadistic kills, carnal glee and sicko humour to build momentum. This new film, however, proves as lumbering and unwieldy as Jason himself. With a flat-lining pace and a grab-bag of slaughter-scenes which are undermined by their lousy editing and lack of ingenuity, the film often feels far longer than it actually is. Additionally, while the filmmakers have wisely packed this Friday the 13th with excessive amounts of unnecessary nudity and graphic sex, these childishly diverting moments are surrounded by so much plodding monotony that their impact is harshly dulled. Only one moment, featuring a topless water-skier being skewered under a dock, manages to strike the perfect balance of winking sensationalistic sadism and repulsive cruelty.

The actors, by and large, struggle awkwardly to deliver lazily written dialogue which often sounds like really bad amateur improv. A scene featuring Aaron Yoo, playing a blissed-out stoner named Chewie, endlessly fumbling around a work-shop, prior to being speared with a household implement, feels like an extended out-take in which no one bothered to yell "Cut!". Likewise, Arlen Escarpeta, the film's lone African-American presence, appears, based on interactions with the rest of the cast, to have been shipped over from another movie entirely. Only Jason himself, played by Derek Mears, seems to be investing any real effort, erasing the memories of Jason's zombie-like past incarnations with his hard-charging animalistic physicality.

It's hard to fathom why, after investing all the money and effort into resurrecting Jason, the filmmakers have so stubbornly refused to try to spin their kick-started Friday the 13th into anything more than a lethargic, dated retread. The Slasher genre is ripe with opportunities for transcendence and reinvention, an avenue which Rob Zombie has explored with wildly mixed results, and it would be refreshing to see an iconic killer such as Jason Voorhees taken in a thrilling new (non-sci-fi) direction. Because, as evidenced by the lifeless compilation of lacklustre stabbings, filletings and impalings in this Friday, it's definitely time for Jason to find himself a script a little more on the cutting edge.

2 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Feb. 23rd, 2009.

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