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Friday the 13th

February 17, 2009  |  12:48pm
Friday the 13th
Release Date: Feb. 13
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writers: Mark Swift, Damien Shannon
Cinematographer: Daniel Pearl
Starring: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti
Studio/Run Time: New Line, 97 mins.

Revival falls into ugly new slasher tradition

The deeply misguided new incarnation of Friday the 13th has little to do with the franchise that inspired it, and that’s not necessarily a problem. It’s the worst-kept secret of the slasher genre that the 1980 original and its 10 sequels are one long-running gag, a commerce-driven series of lousy (if lovable) movies elevated solely by their camp flavor.

A makeover was in order, and that certainly befalls the series with new director Marcus Nispel, who also wrought the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003. The early moments of the new Friday feel almost as if the characters wandered off the set of that movie and on to this one—there is the same deadly solemn air of hopelessness, and Jason begins to look more like Leatherface than, well, Jason. The movie also scraps the plot of the original to focus on a man (Jared Padalecki, a CW star) who searches for his missing sister and encounters a new entourage of doomed weekenders along the way.

As early as the overlong first sequence, in which a character is literally slow-roasted over a camp fire, something is already amiss. It isn’t the lack of fidelity to the old icon so much as the unoriginality of the new one. Jason has always had a certain single-mindedness, a rabid drive to stalk indulgent young people without any obvious malice other than some musty old mama issues. Nispel imagines a more complex creature, and a key revelation halfway through the movie lumps Jason into a long, tired tradition of deformed backwoods boys whose motivations weather down to a scorned sense of isolation.

As the movie goes on, though, the real calamity becomes this Friday's newfound anger and its embrace of cavalier brutality. Nispel’s vision of Camp Crystal Lake now fits with his Texas Chainsaw and Rob Zombie’s Halloween in a collection of genre revivals that suggest a disquieting new slasher aesthetic. Jason, Leatherface and Michael Myers have been welcomed back as de facto protagonists, and their new movies encourage a dark sympathy and even identification. They seem to endorse the moral chaos that throws their killers into action, and as is clear with this movie, the results are repulsive in the extreme.

Watch the trailer for Friday the 13th:

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