Given its pedigree, a 2009 remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH need only succeed by not disrespecting the brand. No Jason talking, no Jason made of metal, just Jason sticking a machete (or whatever he can find) into a batch of attractive college co-eds. Having Jason Voorhees in it means Platinum Dunes can succeed essentially by not fucking up, a brand advantage few films and filmmakers have.
Fortunately Marcus Nispel’s film does nothing to bury the brand. Say what the harping fanboys will about the Michael Bay production house Platinum Dunes, but they keep their purchased properties for adults only and treat the money maker with more respect than most Hollywood studios muster and for that I am thankful. It’s not inventive, opting to function as a conglomerate reboot of parts one through three and not a sequel or “re-imagining”, but it is a respectful heart pumper. Aside from a few drug and sex happy caricatures, FRIDAY THE 13TH is a no nonsense slasher. Case and in point, the most indulgently ironic moment in the film is when Bree (Julianna Guill), forever to be dubbed the girl with the stupendous rack, is killed when Jason impales her on a wall mounted rack of antlers. Even this is not played for laughs (though, for all the 13 year old boys who snuck in, it’s probably the saddest moment of their film going careers).
Of course die hard purists will find something to complain about, but there is nothing that would please all the purists save for a film’s non-existence. For those willing to accept that the industry will do what an industry does, FRIDAY THE 13TH is an acceptable (and thus welcome) stash of kills, thrills and drive-in decadence.
The Camp Crystal Lake roots are left almost intact. A shortened introduction/title credit sequence efficiently conveys that Mama Voorhees killed off the camp counselors who neglected her deformed baby Jason, that a final girl chopped her head off and that Jason came back (somehow). This prelude (part one, if it were) takes a scant few minutes, at which point Shannon and Shift’s script jumps to a present day group of friends (part two) hiking through the woods looking for a supposed pot field. Of course they stumble onto the camp grounds by mistake, which is where a now adult Jason steps in, dispatching the teens in a glorious fashion within twenty minutes. Enter part three, a larger group of co-eds six months later having a weekend getaway at a head douchebag’s luxurious lake house.
Our portal to the story is Jared Padalecki as Clay Miller, a dude in every sense who refuses to give up the search for his missing sister (Amanda Righetti from the abreviated part two). Not to give away what little there is plot wise, suffice to say Padalecki’s path eventually crosses over with that of the lake house group, at which point the survival game is afoot.
Despite none of the characters ever elevating above the two sentence descriptions given to the casting department, there is a moderate level of sympathy felt when Jason turns his gaze on a few of them. That’s fine though, as we are here for what happens when Jason does turn on our co-eds. Horror fans will have plenty to cheer about. While none of the kills may break new ground, they all rivet eyes to the screen, supplying the intended amount of adrenaline. Hand in hand with the killing goes the final staple of the franchise (albeit one that came along farther in the series): co-eds doing what co-eds do in movies. The sex here isn’t over the top, striking a screen time balance that will entertain the male portion of the audience while not alienating their dates. Frankly for a FRIDAY THE 13TH in 2009 the topless nudity restraint is more than I expected.
My only complaint about the reboot is that it could have easily been called anything else, which is a problem. The series is called FRIDAY THE 13TH for a reason, whereas the Nispel flick places no menacing emphasis on the eponymous date. Remove the back story Shannon and Swift’s script maintained – an easy proposition considering how little of it there is – and Jason is nothing more than a bitter old man who doesn’t like kids playing on his lawn. There is no motif of revenge, no motivation of servitude to his slain mother. Boil it down and this iteration is GRAN TORINO with a hockey mask and the violence turned to 11.
I’ll confess that I never held the Jason franchise as close to my heart as many children of the ’80s did (more of a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET breed myself), so limiting the brand identity to the hockey mask isn’t too big of a deal to me. Is the rest of the movie good enough to warrant it being a theatrical must-see, perhaps a daunting proposition to the generation who grew up with Jason and whose own young children now limit their free time at a cineplex? Yes and no. It’s a thrilling, respectful enterprise no doubt, but taking the respectful route also means the filmmakers took the safe root. F1309 looks like every other Michael Bay produced project out there, which is to say that it is a Maxim photoshoot come to life set to a pseduo-industrial, bass heavy score applicable to all Platinum Dunes projects.
That means this FRIDAY THE 13TH is creatively unambitious, but there is no mistaking it for anything but a descendant of the definitive Dead Teenager Movie. It delivers exactly what any reasonable person should hope for from a reboot of a cherished franchise. Personally, I hope that now they’ve re-introduced the masked giant to a new generation that the inevitable sequel will take more risks. Until then I will gladly settle for a film that knows the mark and hits it right through the head with an arrow.