By focusing on the monster instead of teen iniquities and daring to move past innuendo into fact, this Nightmare on Elm Street surpasses its predecessors to out-menace them all.
Welcome to Springwood, a sleepy little town with a secret: young people are dying in their sleep. Well, okay, two secrets, actually: the reason behind the deaths may be due to a bit of vigilante justice on the parts of local parents taking the law into their own hands. Whatever the truth is, the body count is going up and time is running out, and you can’t stay awake forever, Nancy…
The man of your dreams is back, this time replacing franchise favorite Robert Englund with Jackie Earle Haley as the finger-knived dreamstalker Freddy Krueger. What’s new is an edgier, brutal slant that’s not driven by bored teens getting into trouble; these kids know they’re in hot water and are dropping like flies. Worse yet, Freddy has a plan and is executing it meticulously by the numbers, and every new clue for the kids is another for us. While the predisposition to root for the monster is ever-present in these slasher films, this one actually makes audiences want to root for the victims again.
Without going kill by kill (which would be spoilerish to begin with), the “new and improved” Freddy likes to play with his toys, a recurring theme which makes the overall storyline more twisted. This point is also systemic in what empowers Freddy this time around (which should also play out in any future sequels as ways he can be defeated, if only temporarily.) The dialogue is cautiously specific; instead of mere one-liners for the audience’s entertainment, Freddy’s really talking to the kids this time, and that classic 1-2 nursery rhyme both makes more sense and holds more dread than ever. Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Nancy is charged less with being a dream warrior and survives longer because Freddy has singled her out (insert sinister laugh here.) Kyle Gallner, Thomas Dekker, and Katie Cassidy (great screamer!) also happily contribute to the body count.
While this all sounds like a rave about Freddy 2.0 in spite of what’s gone before, I admit to being a fan of the series. There would be no Nightmare on Elm Street if not for the likes of director Wes Craven and actors like Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp. But with so many old franchises being updated and simultaneously destroyed in the process (watch the recent reboot of Friday the Thirteenth for details), the new Nightmare on Elm Street shows respect for the original material while re-inventing a tighter mythology with the essential elements. And finally, whatever Michael Bay did as producer for this film, he needs to do more often for every film he’s involved in (you know, by staying out of it as much as possible.)
(a four skull recommendation out of four)