So I was really excited to see this movie. And I promised myself I wouldn't get my hopes up. But you know how it is.
The movie begins with a black and white chase, kill sequence set in 1980. In it, Pamela Voorhees kills a camp counselor, blaming her for her son's death. After Mrs. Voorhees is beheaded, the audience gets a good look at the locket she was wearing, which is picked up by her boy, Jason. In the locket is a picture of Mrs. Voorhees as a young woman. Fast forward to present day. A group of friends are "hiking" through the woods looking for a pot crop. I say "hiking" because one of the girls has got a fucking purse with her, which she carries in her perfectly french manicured hand. The friends make camp and one of them tells the story of Pamela and Jason Voorhees. Camp Crystal Lake, he says, is not too far away and sometimes people go missing around the lake. After he finishes the ghost story, two friends go exploring and find Jason's childhood home, two more go have sex, and the single guy (the geek in the group) goes looking for the pot. Geek finds the pot and gets killed. Sex couple gets killed. Wandering couple gets killed, but not before they find the locket and comment that Whitney, the girl, looks like the woman in the picture.
Now it's six weeks later and Jared Padalecki is looking for his missing sister, Whitney. While he's at a gas station, he meets a group of friends who are heading up to Trent's "cottage". I say "cottage" because Trent's family is loaded and their shack in the woods is palatial. Trent is a complete asshole to Jared Padalecki and pretty much everyone else. I think it's important to note that Trent's crew includes an Asian guy, a black dude, Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars, and three hot chicks in a deliberate attempt to diversify the cast of characters. Further attention is drawn to the film's inclusiveness by drawing attention to the fact that the white kids are "accidentally" racist towards the black guy.
Jared spends the rest of his day talking to people about his missing sister and meets a woman who tells him his sister's dead and that her killer just wants to be left alone. Meanwhile, Trent and friends settle in at the cottage and get drunk and high. Then people start dying. Eventually, only Jared Padalecki and one hot chick, Jenna, are left and as they're running away, they end up finding Whitney. Jason, you see, didn't kill Whitney but chained her up in his warren of underground tunnels beneath Camp Crystal Lake. Whitney is rescued, Jenna dies, and the brother and sister kill Jason. Sort of.
Sound a mess? That's because it is.
In this retelling/sequel/remake/whatever, the writers have recreated Jason as a human monster. Jason is, in fact, human for the first few movies of the series, but he's an unknown entity. Not because we can't know him in the sense that we can't know The Thing, but because we don't want to. The unknown is what makes a scary movie scary. Of all the Fridays, only in the second movie do we even get a glimpse of Jason-the-man, and that is only because Ginny stumbles into his home during the final chase. In this new film, we follow Jason for a good part of the time. We see him "at home" where he's keeping Whitney, we see him disposing of a body, we see him menacing a topless girl in the lake. And when Jason's not on screen, we still get to know him through the stories and experiences of the other characters. We learn more about Jason than any other person in the film, and though he is the star, he is not the lead. Humanizing Jason in this way detracts from the whole point of the film, which is to watch people die at the hands of an unknowable and seemingly unstoppable force. Even Michael Meyers, the most human of all monsters, is entirely and irredeemably evil, and for that reason it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend him or escape him.
Trent, as I've said, is an asshole. Fully and completely. He has zero redeeming qualities and proves himself to be not only a jerk to his guy friends, but has little respect for women. Trent is, easily, the most awful person in the movie and his characterization as such forces the audience to invest a lot of energy into hating Trent, when they would otherwise be fearing Jason. Additionally, the character of the farm hand is so repulsive, that we direct our revulsion at him instead of Jason, which again takes away from the true horror in this movie, which is Jason himself. Conversely, most of the other characters have little or no characterization at all--they are cannon fodder and nothing more. Indeed, this is a Friday the 13th movie, but it's never a waste of time to vest some energy into creating likable characters. Were I to care at all for the people on screen, then I would be more emotionally invested in their deaths, which would up the terror. The whole point of the movie is to be scared, after all. But this movie treats its characters as being dead already, divesting its audience of any emotional engagement or involvement with the people on screen.
To watch Jason kill people, it's why I went to see this movie. I can forgive a lot if a movie looks good. And I might have been willing to let it go that Jason is too human and the movie is badly written were I able to actually see Jason at work. But due to the filmmakers' incomprehensible affinity for shaky-cam and short takes, it is nearly impossible to see what's happening on screen. Film is a multi-sensory medium, meaning you have to engage your audience with both sight and sound. Deliberately blinding or deafening your audience can intensify their experience, but limiting their ability to follow the action fully displayed onscreen detracts from their enjoyment. Horror movies aim to terrify, horrify, disgust, and amaze their audience with musical stings and cues, framing, jump scares, and special effects. To cut up the action of a kill or to film it in such a way as to make it difficult to follow, reduces the impact of the scene. Yes, I can be scared without seeing the object of my fear, but I can't be grossed out without looking at what is meant to be disgusting.
I can go on about why Friday The 13th fails to live up to expectations, but my goal here is to stick to purely academic reasons for disapproving of this latest installment in the series. The film is by no means the worst of its kind, but the filmmakers' pedestrian approach to making a horror movie in general is insulting to Jason fans in particular.
Everything is shot too dark, with extreme close-ups of the action and in tiny little bits of film that race by too quickly for us to get a good read on what's going on until it's over.
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