STARRING: Jackie Earle Haley, Katie Cassidy, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton, Lia D. Mortensen, Charles E Tiedje

2010, 102 Minutes, Directed by: Samuel Bayer

Following the trend of recent re-imaginings of the horror and slasher standards of the '70s and '80s, A Nightmare on Elm Street takes itself very, very seriously.

Let that simmer for a moment . . .

This is the story of an evil man who comes back to life in the dreams of the children of those who took the law into their own hands and burned him alive. The disembodied spirit of the dead man can kill these offspring in their dreams, which results in their death in the waking world.

The inherent absurdity of the scenario is unmistakable, and series creator Wes Craven never shied away from it (the original's sequels certainly didn't).

Now, director Samuel Bayer drains the ridiculous from the idea, instead concentrating on the angst-ridden lives of its multiple, disposable heroes and unnecessarily focusing on Fred "Freddy" Krueger's (Jackie Earle Haley) life just before his fiery death. The result is a predictable string of gotcha moments made pitiful by a grave tone.

The kids on Elm Street are all having the same nightmare of a Christmas-sweater-clad, fedora-wearing, knife-fingered man with a burnt face . . .

These teenagers are underdeveloped to the point of not even falling into types and are mainly defined by their relationships with each other. Dean (Kellan Lutz) is friends with Kris (Katie Cassidy), who once dated Jesse (Thomas Dekker), who's friends with Quentin (Kyle Gallner), who has a crush on Nancy (Rooney Mara). Nancy is a waitress at a local diner and draws in her spare time, and that's the extent of any form of characterization to be had for any of these eventual victims.

"Haley, behind all the makeup, makes a mumbling Freddie Krueger . . ."

At the same diner, Dean has an accident with a badly aimed knife, trying to get at the burnt man and finding his jugular. It's a startling moment, not because of the gore (which is pretty detailed), but because for a moment, it appears that screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer might try a new trick in making the deaths appear as suicides in the real world. There's no such luck, as the next one is a recreation of one from the original, with Freddy tossing his victim around the room with bone-crunching effects on the soundtrack before using those blades of his (Bayer also recreates the Freudian shot of Krueger's hand emerging between Nancy's legs in the tub).

Krueger plays with his victims' conception of reality, while Strick and Heisserer play Duck, Duck, Goose with the teenage leads. Possible protagonists enter and leave the narrative, as Freddy time and time again uses his razor-sharp finger extensions.

Finally, the script settles on a pair of characters to follow through to the end, although that's mainly because the rest have been killed off. The secrets of their past with Krueger come to light. Nancy's mom (Connie Britton) leaves her daughter's preschool class photo in a drawer, even though she wants Nancy to forget about that terrible episode of her life. Perhaps throwing away or destroying the photograph would have been a better idea?

Krueger was the gardener at the preschool where all the kids now dead or still being tortured by nightmares went. The youngsters came forward to their parents about abuse by his hand, and for some unknown reason, Jesse believes Krueger to innocent, the kids (himself included by that thought process) to be liars, and the deaths to be the result of him seeking retribution. It's a pretty lousy red herring plot point, and one the movie stubbornly holds to.

These differences from the original story add nothing worthwhile to the proceedings, and the remake stays true to the intercutting of dreams and reality. Dream sequences come and go and come and go, until the entire device becomes obnoxious. Part of it is familiarity with the gimmick, and the screenplay's use of the dream-fakeout and fakeout of the first fakeout so often that the movie never builds any sort of suspense, only frustration.

Bayer's industrial dreamscapes are no different than the rest in the series except in the obvious increase in budget, and Haley, behind all the makeup, makes a mumbling Krueger. Although, in the movie's approach to the material, the role is entirely toothless and dull.

As is the case with most remakes, this one is pretty pointless . . .

- Mark Dujsik



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