By Paula R. Stiles
Friday the 13th (2009). Director: Marcus Nispel. Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Derek Mears. Country: USA.
Summer 1980: Mad Mrs. Voorhees (an unrecognizable Nana Visitor) loses her head while picking off a bunch of teenage counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, where her son Jason (Derek Mears) had once presumably drowned. But it turns out he’s alive and a disfigured recluse, living in a series of tunnels under an enormous pot farm in Texas. He watched the Final Girl behead Mommy and grew up alone.
Almost thirty years later, when a group of hikers intrudes on his territory and steals his pot, he responds with extreme prejudice. The bloodbath continues six weeks later, when another group of dumb teens shows up at a nearby cottage, dominated by rich, snotty Trent (Travis Van Winkle). They cross paths with the anxious older brother, Clay (top-billed Jared Padalecki) of a girl from the first group, Whitney (Amanda Righetti). He’s searching for his missing sister.
If you’re familiar with the original 80s series of slasher flicks, you’ll recognize that this reboot is a mash-up of the first film (a very quick almost-montage, at the beginning during the credits) and the rest, because Jason isn’t actually in the original Friday the 13th. Like its rival in the movie theatres (My Bloody Valentine 3D), this is a straightforward and unpretentious slasher of the 80s variety. It succeeded well enough at its aim to make its producers talk periodically about a sequel, though one is not yet forthcoming. Ironically, it’s almost PG-13 by today’s standards of gore, raised to an R by lots of gratuitous (and silicone) titties and cursing, as opposed to much explicit gore (though there’s some nice dummy work with severed heads and such). In comparison, My Bloody Valentine pursued that R with far more enthusiasm, more hardcore nudity (albeit in a single scene), and aggressive gore, though perhaps somewhat less cursing. However, My Bloody Valentine is also pretty nasty and intense, with a very ambiguous hero. If you’re looking for a more traditionally teen-oriented slasher, Friday the 13th‘s your flick.
The film is by-the-numbers, though the cinematography is nice (It was filmed in Texas). You’ve got the usual stuff – dumb teens, horny couples, lonely geeks, drugs and alcohol, useless authorities, two token minority guys to get killed in the saggy middle of the film, a faceless killer, daylight horror, nighttime kills, and (of course) the woods. You’ll find all the usual primal fears and taboos that your average slashers have stolen from fairy tales about premarital sex, going off the beaten path, inbred locals, and encountering the Id-like Monster.
The remake mixes things up a little with a class-conflict love triangle between the poor loner Clay and the rich (and obnoxious) Trent over Nice Girl Jenna, a family-tragedy angle (Clay and Whitney’s mother has died since she went missing, and Jason believes Whitney resembles his dead mother), two potential Final Girls, good buddy chemistry between the two Doomed Minority Guys (One even gets killed trying to save the other), and the pot angle. Of course, the pot angle doesn’t really make much sense, but it is more of a motive for Jason’s violence than the “not gettin’ any, any time soon” sexual sadism of the original 80s flicks.
Since I reviewed a Jensen Ackles film last week, I thought it only fair to give Jared Padalecki a little review love this week. I had a few choices and ultimately settled on this one because it was the best of the Padalecki horrors that I had, as opposed to a bad flick where Padalecki was by far the best thing in it. It’s summer and I’m in a mood for fun not masochism.
Padalecki is also the Hero in this one (which he’s not in his other horror flicks). Naturally, this being an iconic slasher, the Hero is overshadowed by the Villain, Jason. They managed to offset Padalecki’s height and bulk by hiring a guy to play Jason who was even bigger. This gives their fight scenes more suspense, since Padalecki doesn’t look all that big in Friday the 13th and seems very vulnerable in the knock-down-drag-outs Clay has almost continuously toward the end with Jason.
Essentially, Padalecki’s playing a version of Beowulf versus Jason’s Grendel. Clay is a quiet outsider, grieving for his mother and determined to find and save his missing sister, even if it means tangling with a local community in denial and venturing into the Monster’s den. Though the role isn’t as complex as his Supernatural co-star, Jensen Ackles’, role in My Bloody Valentine 3D, it still requires charisma to get our sympathy and physical stamina to make us think Clay has a prayer against the Big Bad. Padalecki makes Clay by far the most sympathetic character in the film (with the possible exception of Danielle Panabaker’s Jenna). It’s easy to discount that as not a big deal, but I’ve seen horror flicks where the lead lacked charisma and/or physical believability, and Lord, have they been dire.
Padalecki is pretty hot in this one, too, sporting stubble and riding a motorcycle. The film needed more of him not less. He doesn’t even appear for the first 25 minutes, though mainly because that’s how long it takes to get through the credits montage and the massacre of the first group. He gets introduced in parallel to the second group and is in conflict with them for the next hour (until the group’s too far whittled down for it to matter). He also fields the class-conflict angle well, polite enough that we sympathize with him but tough enough to be believable against Jason later on. I fully believed him as an anxious-older brother-turned-reluctant-hero.
I found the film itself pretty shallow. Though I didn’t go to the theatre looking for Ingmar Bergman, Friday the 13th still felt stale. Michael Bay remakes have a tendency to sand off the rough edges that made the originals both dodgy and interesting. Aside from Padalecki, the only actor who really stands out in the group of pretty young things is Panabaker (Righetti gets little to do besides scream and run). Derek Mears is also imposing and Bogeyman-like as Jason. The action stuff at the end is good (There’s a scene from the trailer where Clay gets grabbed from behind that’s a good jump moment, even when you know it’s coming), if you’re willing to wait through the perfunctory introductions and build-ups (twice) of boring, annoying young people with the depth of a paper cut. Still, if you’re looking for fun summer slasher fare, there is soooooo much worse out there. And did I mention Padalecki’s hot?
I got the “Killer Cut” widescreen edition. It was fairly barebones, consisting of an 11-minute documentary and three cut/extended scenes (the last scene with a lot of Padalecki), and subtitles in three languages (English, French and Spanish). The documentary focuses on stunts and FX. If you’re looking for more Padalecki, go with the extended scenes. The documentary is slim pickin’s on that front.
You can buy Friday the 13th on Amazon.com.