The only memory I have of the Wes Craven Nightmare on Elm Street saga was my Uncle’s VHS collection of the series I found when I was helping him move, and I’ve never particularly had any other interest in the franchise. However, once director Samuel Bayer and veteran character actor Freddy Krueger were attached, my expectations went up for a deeply psychological horror film. Although leading up the release I was greatly fearing disappointment, after seeing the series’ reboot, I can say the result is everything I could have dreamed. (See what I did there?) The story follows a group of teens (Chris, Dean, Quentin, Jackson, and Nancy) who are all being stalked in their dreams by a burned man wearing a fedora and a red/black striped sweater, wearing knives on his fingers. Once a number of their friends start getting killed off in their sleep, they begin to look into the mystery of who this vengeful man is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. The film plays out like a mystery through the first 1/2, trying to figure out the who/why, and slowly brings to light the involvement that Fred Krueger had with the teens and their parents nearly 2 decades earlier, all revealed in a series of flashbacks about halfway through the film. Not to spoil anything, but the flashback towards the halfway point where we do meet Fred Krueger, his ways, and his eventual demise is undoubtedly the best the film has to offer thanks to a non-makeup performance by Jackie Earle Haley. I had assumed they would give us the back story towards the beginning of the film and built from there, but the way they choose to reveal it half way through works better than I could have imagined. In fact, it works brilliantly in order to give the movie an extra layer of meat to keep the viewer guessing. You’re constantly wondering “Who was this guy?”, “What happened to him?”, “What relation did he have to these kids?” will haunt you. However, some out there will still be against the idea of restructuring the story like they did.
As with many horror films, the cast is usually second rate. Although a majority of the teenage cast isn’t setting a new standard in adolescent acting, they’re more than solid at performing their parts. The real entertainment of horror films, just as with Robert Englund nearly 30 years ago comes with Jackie Earle Haley’s rendition of Fred Krueger. Haley chimes in another incredible performance with the film’s tone of a more perverted villain. Aside from Englund’s comedic tone of Krueger, Haley brings some sheer terror and brute force to the part. He fills the sweater perfectly, and oozes creepiness with Bayer’s interpretation of the character within the pedophile subtext. You come to fear him and what he may do anytime he’s on screen, often hiding, jumping out, and taunting just as any Krueger should, or at least in this universe. However, as Bayer is a first time director I got the general feeling he just didn’t know how to build suspense, and therein, is the film’s greatest flaw. Through the first half, the only times we see Krueger are in quick, frequent bursts, often in jump scares. While it does work for the movie as it is a horror film, I’ve never been a huge fan of jump scares, as any film can do it. The real skill comes from making the audience fear for the characters as if they were in the situation, fear death, and most importantly fear Krueger as the Boogeyman he is. All of the scenes of Haley’s sheer menace work splendidly, and the fear they build works well, especially towards the last 1/3rd, but they just don’t reach their true fear potential.
Bayer, being a former music video director, does get a good sense of his visual style necessary for the Elm Street franchise. All of the “nightmare” sets look really good, Bayer signifying a shift into sleep by a shift in lighting and sometimes sound. All of the kills are fun and creative, and once the film enters the “micronap” section, then the film really starts to have fun and tap into the true primitive terror. Also noting, the opening credits are great. The film’s dark, it deals with serious tones, and Bayer taps into just the right feel for it. All in all, Nightmare on Elm Street is a film not to be missed. It’s terrifying, it taps into the deep and dark psychological nature it strives for, and it boasts some great performances by the one and only Jackie Earle Haley. Simply put, I loved it. It’s the potential beginning for a great series I’ll definitely be tuned into for the years to come.
4 1/2 out of 5