Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday the 13th - Not Dull, Not Sharp

American horror’s favorite son is back yet again. In Friday the 13th, fans of the franchise will quickly recognize the grisly craft of Jason Voorhees as he uses many a sharp object to dispatch the meddling youths who wander onto the abandoned property of Camp Crystal Lake. Pretty faces meet the wrong end of an arrow, an axe, deer antlers, a screwdriver, and the signature machete. It’s a decent arsenal, and horror fans young and old will be filling the seats to see how Jason uses it, and more importantly, they’ll want to get a good scare. Unfortunately Friday the 13th is everything you would expect and doesn’t deliver enough on both counts. You can see the lazily thought out scares coming a mile away, and there won’t be any memorable kills to write home about, assuming you write home about memorable kills.

Director Marcus Nispel opens his film with what you might as well call a fun twenty minute horror short. A group of attractive young adults enter an abandoned camp ground in search of the bounty of marijuana that is rumored to grow there. I know, it took me a minute to adjust to weed featuring so heavily in a Friday the 13th movie. Stoners beware, because if you read into it the wrong way it might seem like the Office of National Drug Control Policy is pushing Jason as a consequence of marijuana use, which would be terrifying. But that’s not the case. By the end of the twenty minute intro you’ll have a fine sense of Jason’s work and understand that he’s really motivated by the commands of his crazy slain mother. Flash forward six weeks to another batch of Abercrombie & Fitch models who arrive at Crystal Lake. Jared Padalecki plays Clay Miller, a young rogue in search of his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who went missing with the previous group of Crystal Lake wanderers. Clay eventually unites with a group of weekend partygoers and the rest is murderous mayhem.

If you’re a big slasher horror fan, the scares won’t do much for you. The movie has all of the standard thrills. You’ll see characters pull back curtains to find nothing there, but wait, the killer suddenly appears behind them. You’ll see someone kneel down to pick something up and rise to find the fright waiting for them. There’s nothing new here, and once I accepted that, I was hoping the characters would shine in some way, maybe even just twinkle for a moment, but this movie is not an appropriate study of character. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If I had a nickel for every Friday th 13th movie I’d have sixty scents, but if I had a nickel for every poor decision a character has made in this franchise, I’d be rich.

It’s hard to feel bad when movie characters die because of a stupid decision they made. During the brisk 95 minute run time you’ll see characters try to escape by knowingly running to Jason’s home. You’ll see a character abandon the relative safety of the middle of the lake for the shallow water beneath a pier, after she’s seen a machete wielding Jason waiting for her on the shore. Safety in numbers seems to be common knowledge, except in horror movies. The characters run off on their own when they know there’s a killer on the move. One of the characters finds a gun, a perfect find when you have a killer after you, except he spends all of his ammunition shooting at creaks in the wall. Stupid, stupid, stupid, but it got me wondering. Could writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift truly believe their characters would act this way, or are they consciously providing us with the sort of character choices that make audiences cringe in their seats as they wait for the sure kill?

Friday the 13th is not a good movie, but there’s something effective about it. Every time I saw one of those stupid decisions being made, the audience collectively cringed and lowered in their seats, but with a smile on their faces. They were being primed for the kill situation, which I’ve determined involves 1 - The poor decision. 2 - The moment of false peril. 3 - The moment of true peril. And 4 - The kill. The whole experience felt amazingly similar to a roller coaster. On the ride, you see the big drop coming, you brace yourself as best as you can, and then the thrill hits you. Immediately after the a big drop, there’s a period of relative relaxation as you prepare for the next drop. The rhythm of Friday the 13th, and perhaps most horror movies, is similar. I think that’s why the movie will make bank and doesn’t need to be great. People are addicted to that rhythm and the formula for these movies. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leave with a smile on my face, as did everyone else. And like a roller coaster, we passed the smiling faces of everyone waiting in line to get on the ride. You know what you’re getting into with this one. If you want the cheap thrills, a few laughs, and a good helping of nudity, Friday the 13th is for you. If you want the next great horror movie, proceed at your own risk.


greg said...

not a bad review, but too bad clay's sister's name isn't jenna and isn't played by danielle panabaker. the sister's name is whitney. god.

John said...

I'm sooo happy that you dropped what $15 $20 bucks to see that crap film. If you went to My Bloody Valentine the reward in the Kanye West 3D glasses alone would have been fulfilling. I also take it that you're going to also watch Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li as well?

Onyx said...

Greg, thanks for pointing out the mistake.

John, I paid $12.50 to see the movie. I like seeing movies, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford seeing them, the good ones and the not so good ones. I'm a big Street Fighter fan, and if Chun Li is anywhere near as bad ass in the movie as she is in the clip below, I just might see it.