At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Friday the 13th “09”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears, Caleb Guss, Jonathan Sadowski, Julianna Guill, Ben Feldman, Arlen Escarpeta, Ryan Hansen, Willa Ford, Nick Mennell, America Olivo, Kyle Davis, Richard Burgi, Nana Visitor, Kathleen Garrett, Stephanie Rhodes/ Runtime: 97 minutes

I think it is safe to say that with the idea of remaking everything that isn’t either nailed down or could get you slapped with some serious legal action proving to be quite the easy fix for the land of movie magic nowadays, I guess it was only a matter of time that one of the founding fathers of the modern slasher film, Jason Voorhees, would get the chance to come back to theaters not in a follow-up to the bucket load of sequels we already got to the first one from 1980, but instead in a “reimagining” of the whole franchise. As a result in 2009, movie goers were treated to such a reimagining and the person chosen to take point and direct the film was a man named Marcus Nispel. The same helmer incidentally who, back in 2003, gave us a remake of also iconic slasher horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre that turned out to be surprisingly not that bad. I wish the same could be said here. That’s because even though it has better work from the teams both behind and in front of the camera especially when looking at the lower grade, but still enjoyable to varying degrees predecessors, this 2009 stab of the machete is unfortunately not able to function on the level that it potentially could’ve. Indeed this is one slice of cinematic pie that sadly follows the same old formula that all the others have though in all fairness there isn’t that much room in regards to expanding the typical plot involving slicing and dicing, horny teens, and a hockey-mask wearing psycho that literally every entry, save for the original and the 2nd one from 1981, has chosen to operate with. Suffice it to say that the 2009 Friday the 13th really accepts this formula because if it’s not broken don’t try to fix it. Yes it does make minor improvements to some other components that are part of this series, but overall it doesn’t really add that much to the franchise as a whole.

The plot is as follows: On June 13th in the long gone year of 1980, we as movie goers get to witness as a blood-drenched night of unspeakable horror is finally able to conclude when a frightened yet resolute teen decapitates a woman by the name of Pamela Voorhees at a camp known as Crystal River ehhh Creek ehhh Lake. A woman, who among other things, was a former employee of the camp and a mother driven insane and so has been “punishing” counselors at the camp for a while now due to a pair of them long failing to keep a proper eye on her son Jason while he was out swimming due to more….carnal pleasures shall we say? Yet unbeknownst to the young woman is the fact that Jason has seen the whole thing play out and is determined to pick up where dear ol’ Mum left off. A period of time later and we can see that Jason has done just that and is in the midst of butchering a group of backpackers who have accidentally made their way on his turf whilst looking for marijuana (because I’m sure anyone dumb enough to go to Camp Crystal Lake had to grow their pot on site rather than just bring it to camp like other camps’ counselors do). Yet amongst this group of idiots is a young woman by the name of Whitney whose anxiety-stricken brother Clay, sometime after her disappearance, decides to head to the area and see if he can find clues as to what happened to her. It is in the process of doing so that he crosses paths with a squad of young adult partiers including a couple named Trent and Jenna. Yet whilst 98% of the group, including Trent, could care less about if Clay’s sister is among the living or not, we see that Jenna is a bit more empathetic and decides to help Clay try to find his sister. Unfortunately it isn’t long before both of these parties soon come across our favorite machete-wielding butcher Jason who, surprise surprise, begins picking them off one by one thus instigating a horrific and visceral battle for survival.

Now it should be noted right off the bat that the 2009 take on Friday the 13th is one that doesn’t toss what came before it aside, but rather it tries to make some attempts to better key components to the franchise mythos. It is with that in mind that this slice of cinematic pie gets underway by taking the whole backstory that we learned at the end of the very first entry from 1980 and gives us the vital basics of the bond between Jason and his mum that is his motivation to butcher people. Indeed at the heart of this whole series of films, I think it can be said that Jason is very much a slasher villain equivalent to Grendel from Beowulf who butchers people not only out of a sense of revenge, but also due to the fact that he wasn’t really taught the key differences between what is right and what is murder. It is with that in mind that the 2009 stab of the machete manages to ensnare the torn out of a dead person’s heart of the narrative in just 5-10 minutes and then moves on to give us a grown-up Jason who is hell-bent on getting vengeance for his mum’s demise. From that point forward, this slice of cinematic pie gives you, the movie goer quite a few throwbacks, tributes, and even some narrative wrinkles that will remind you of the original movies whilst also giving us an expansion on the mythos of this franchise and its iconic butcher. With that in mind, perhaps the most intriguing element that is an example of this is the voyage into Jason’s hideaway of sorts. Indeed whilst in there you will be able to see a few throwbacks to earlier movies courtesy of Jason’s assortment of dead bodies and whathaveyou he has compiled in there. Also even though the genesis for both Jason’s machete and mask are shown to us, this slice of cinematic pie starts out with a bit of a nod to Part 2 from 1981 due to Jason doing his thing in a white burlap bag rather than his iconic hockey bask. Suffice it to say that this slice and dice of cinematic pie does manage to commit fairly well to the balancing act between a through and through remake and a complete and utter reimagining though it doesn’t quite nail the landing as well as it should.

Now even though this film does walk along a quite familiar path, it does boldly try to make certain aspects of the series better than what we have seen before. The first of these is that this slice of cinematic pie doesn’t spend most of its runtime trying to “develop the characters” so that way the film’s runtime is longer. This is an issue that showed up in past installments since, by and large, most of the characters were just supposed to be nothing more than expendable individuals who were only in the movie so the killer had someone to violently butcher and/or dismember. Yes this one does have some kills in the beginning, but these murders have a trinity of distinct purposes to them in not only giving you what you have come to expect from a film in this series as well as to set up this film’s mood and atmosphere, but to also construct the narrative that will be the focus of the 2nd and 3rd acts of the film. In this film at least the construction and development of the characters is at least able to connect two of these things together in a manner that adds rather than detracts from the narrative. It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike a lot of the other movies in this franchise, that whilst yes this film does make its way down a very familiar path it is still able to, by the time we get to the climax of the movie, give us a group of young people who have constructed decently enough that we find it easy to care about them surviving this horrific scenario even as the movie remains wonderfully enigmatic about who is going to make it and who won’t as the movie wraps up.

Now even though the 2009 stab of the machete in the Friday the 13th franchise does do slightly better in some key areas than the ones that came before it, it also isn’t able to quite match the level of spine-tingling and potentially nausea-inducing that these traits possessed when utilizing in this film’s helmer’s 2003 stab on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes this movie does operate at a decent tempo, but it doesn’t really if ever showcase a similar vibe of desperation and despair like the 2003 Chainsaw Massacre did. Also whilst that slice and dice of cinematic pie actually gave audiences some truly visceral content as well as a tempo and mood that was appropriately depressing, this one feels run of the mill when looking at from a similar angle with only Jason and his behemoth presence being present to run chills down your spine though his lack of novelty even detracts from that as well. As for the gore present in this film, yes the ante is upped to a fair degree from the other movies in this series, but again it’s nowhere near as visceral as this film helmer’s other horror remake. Sure things in the beginning seem like they are going to go well courtesy of legs in bear traps, bodies being set on fire, and Jason giving someone a machete to the head, but sadly the gore really doesn’t push the envelope in any way after that which we haven’t already seen a million times before.

All in all I think it can be said, and rightfully so, that making the choice to compare/contrast the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th to the one done in 2003 for Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the same degree as the films that came before them is not nearly as fair as you might think. Yet with how successful Massacre was in theaters is it really any surprise that people might have anticipated something similar with this one? Suffice it to say that whilst yes this slice and dice of cinematic pie does give us one of the finer efforts dealing with our favorite hockey mask wearing and machete wielding homicidal maniac in regards to the skill of the creative team involved, the violence on display, the atmosphere that permeates through the entirety of the film, and character construction that is a teeny tiny bit of a step up, this film still proves to be a bit of a let-down due more to what people expected rather than anything else. Indeed this slice and dice of cinematic pie may operate to a certain extent, but by not really separating itself in any key ways outside the aforementioned ingredients, this is one romp through Crystal Lake that is best as a fairly strong time killer more than anything else though not for lack of effort. On a scale of 1-5 I give Friday the 13th “09” a solid 2.5 out of 5.