Rant Spot

RANT SPOT: Friday the 13th (2009)

by Byron Bixlerfriday-the-13th1I generally regard anything under the Platinum Dunes logo to be poison, but I decided to give the Friday the 13th remake/reboot a shot anyway. Sean S. Cunningham was a producer, after all, so maybe it would retain some form of “respect” for the original (which isn’t all that respectable to begin with). Then again, Cunningham also produced Jason Goes to Hell… so never mind, I guess.

To quickly provide some background on my relationship with the franchise, I took it upon myself a couple years ago to go through the whole series. It may seem like a masochistic undertaking, but I saw it as a fun way to explore the slasher genre — an underseen area of cinema for me at the time. Unlike the franchises spawned by Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or A Nightmare on Elm Street, the 11 films (12 if you count Freddy vs. Jason) starring everyone’s favorite hockey mask-wearing killer never had that one legitimately great movie to kick things off. Released in 1980, the first Friday the 13th is a dull, draggy, rinse-and-repeat affair only somewhat saved from total awfulness by the campiness of Betsy Palmer’s performance as Pamela Voorhees. The four films that follow are pretty uniformly mediocre, but I found Part VI to be really enjoyable in its self-aware antics. However, after that bright spot, the series goes completely off the rails, graduating from mediocrity to unapologetic nonsense. Part VII involves telekinesis, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a lie, spending 75% of the movie fucking around on a boat, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is both a lie and batshit crazy, dreaming up a bizarre new mythology for Jason including magic and demonic possession, and in Jason X, the series jumps about 20 sharks when it sends the killer into space.

In other words, the most recent Friday the 13th isn’t the worst thing in the franchise, but it might be the most annoying entry.

Like any other Bay-factory creation, the film is so lacking in personality, it hurts. You can call it a remake and you can call it a reboot, and while I think it exists in some awkward space in between the two terms, the more proper title would be “regurgitation.” If cinema was food, this is what cinematic vomit would look like. I don’t say this to imply that Friday the 13th is aesthetically repugnant or offensive, though. It’s neither of those things. Lazy is what it is. Platinum Dunes has literally ingested the iconic slasher series only to bring it back up, the structure and character types basically the same, but the distinctive flavor entirely gone.

The whole film is shot in this alternating black/blue, black/yellow color palette that has become so customary of modern horror, and the visuals are only the beginning of the movie’s impersonal, production line quality. All of the kids look like models, and there’s no way to differentiate between most of them by anything other than their level of douchiness. Of course, I say “most of” due to the presence of the two minority characters. These characters are the outliers of the central party-hard troupe, the Asian-American being the designated weirdo character and the black guy being just “the black guy,” unable to get through a scene without verbally referencing his blackness.

But I digress. Where was I? Ah yes, the uniformity. How about Jason, then? Amongst all the blandness, he must at least be the one solid piece, right? Nope. Jason has no screen presence in this. There’s nothing to hang onto, whether it be a style of walking or a suggested emotional disposition. His shack has a dime-a-dozen, psychopathically disheveled design and the filmmakers seem to think that the best way to enhance his scariness is to repeatedly film him in that pose you see on the main poster: standing behind someone, standing in the middle of the street, watching someone from the woods, etc. He’s boring and if this had been the way that audiences were first acquainted with Jason years ago, there never would have been a whole franchise built off him.

It has been established that the filmmaking is unambitious. Okay. That’s probably a given. However, what I didn’t anticipate was how irritating it was going to be. I never let movies go unfinished once I’ve gotten about 15 minutes into them, but it took every bit of willpower I had to not shut this off prematurely. Somehow, they managed to make the so-called teenagers even more annoying and even more forced in their comedic stylings and sexual exploits. Somehow, we care even less about their personal dramas. Somehow, the plot beats are even more predictable. Somehow, the jump scares are even more frustrating. And I don’t mean the false boo-scares where something leaps into frame or when the camera quickly pans, accompanied by a *BANG* sound effect. No, I mean the sudden cuts to loud, obnoxious music and the soulless hunks of meat that jam out to it. Now, that’s upsetting.

To be honest, the action on-screen got so uninteresting at one point, that I took out my laptop and started playing ironically fitting songs over the scenes to make it more bearable/fun. Not fair? I don’t care. I normally hate to split my concentration when a film is demanding my attention, but I didn’t have any respect for this, so I proceeded without guilt.

Friday the 13th isn’t abominable and the series it draws from isn’t exactly the holy grail of horror or anything that could or should be considered sacred and untouchable, but it was a pretty unpleasant experience for me, personally. It is happy to resurrect old cliches, but it hovers uncomfortably between campy, postmodernist self-awareness and straightforward seriousness (perhaps leaning a little closer to the latter). It stays safely in its box of underachievement, whoring out nuggets of familiarity without bothering to add anything new but a more aggressive sense of product placement (I counted three instances within the first eight minutes alone). If anything can be said about the film’s kinship to the original films, though, it’s that it is equally unimaginative and disposable. A sad consolation, indeed.

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