Let’s see. Half an hour out of the screening and I’m already forgetting what transpired. Severed ear, check. Decapitation, check. An arrow through the head, check. (Did it come out through the eyeball? I can’t quite remember.) Axe, thrown, to the upper back, subsequently shoved through chest from behind, check. Machete to the head, check. (Think this may have been a direct crib from the Savini stunt in the original Dawn of the Dead.) Meat-hook hanging, check. (Swiped from the original Texas Chain Saw.) Death by campfire? Check. Double-impalement coitus interruptus? File under missed opportunities, along with the inexplicable lack of a 3D version. Hockey mask, check. “Sister Christian,” check. Naked tits, check check check check check check.
That’s all to say that the Friday the 13th sequel/remake/reboot does pretty much what’s expected, sending a hulking simpleton with serious mommy issues on a misanthropic tear through a gaggle of moderately attractive, mildly annoying college students. The problem is twofold: it doesn’t do that particularly well, and it does nothing else. If director Marcus Nispel has a point of view on this material, it’s inconsistent. The lengthy pre-credits sequence, a 20-minute mini-movie featuring the on-screen death and dismemberment of an assortment of interchangeable unlikable young people, is pretty much an exercise in exhibitionist swagger. It marches into the Jason mythology, whips out its dick, and declares that it’s here to fuck shit up. It’s also a clever way to squeeze lots of mayhem into the first couple reels of film, because, gosh, the set-up for the slaughter sure gets dull fast — inane characters, rote situations, execrable dialogue (from the writers of Freddy vs. Jason!).
As the movie’s main narrative segment gets underway, we meet strong, quiet Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), the concerned sibling of Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti), the moody redhead who was killed just as the film’s title card came on screen. (Or was she?) Clay is poking around Crystal Lake looking for clues to Whitney’s sudden disappearance. He encounters a carload of hearty partiers heading off to a vacation home in the woods near the water to indulge their yen for sex, drugs, and rock and roll: Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), a graduate of the Jennifer Love Hewitt School of Squinchy Eyes; her boyfriend Trent (Travis Van Winkle), a douchebag; and a blandly multicultural assortment of their bland, bland friends.
The topless (Willa Ford) waterskiing sequence, which ends in (what else?) bloody death, flirts self-consciously with Final Destination-style cynicism and gallows humor, a momentary bout of the kind of friskiness that would be welcome if Nispel could sustain it. A later scene in which the generously and conspicuously endowed Bree (Julianna Guill) bangs Trent silly while Jenna is off looking for bodies with her new buddy, Clay, begs for some kind of authorial commentary on the slasher genre’s reputation for punitive and sadistic attitudes toward on-screen sex, but this Friday has no such thing on its mind. The scenes of bloody murder are numerous but still nothing special, certainly not by the gory standards of an era when even Hostel Part II can get a rating, and while you could point to the relatively mild effects of the original to justify the remake’s old-school approach, I would have gotten a little kick out of at least one scene of truly Grand Guignol mayhem akin to the Final Destination movies – or even the spectacularly bloody Friday the 13th Part III, which I remember fondly for the scene in which Jason slices a teenager clean in half on screen. (Good times.)
BEWARE — SPOILERS FOLLOW
I bumped the letter grade up a notch because Nispel and his crew — not to mention his cheerfully nude actresses — keep the film mostly watchable (I only really considered getting up and leaving once) as it works through its schtick, and the last few minutes finally generate a shadow of the rip-roaring intensity that the whole film seems to strive toward. On opening weekend, with a large and moderately rowdy audience, it could be fun. And the climax is somewhat interesting, in that the final (virginal) girl device adopted by numerous slasher movies of yore is revised in favor of a final family — virtuous brother and sister struggle against the hockey-masked menace, even he the heartsick product of a violently broken home. Huzzah for family supplanting celibacy as a celebrated moral value. But most of the space between sex scenes and bloody murders is padded, condescendingly, with the kind of 110-decibel phony shock effects that make you jump out of your chair as an involuntary reaction. Remember the scene in Alien where Jones the cat jumps out of a locker and scares the piss out of the entire crew of the Nostromo? Imagine if Ridley Scott had pulled that bullshit about a dozen times in the course of 60 minutes. No thanks.