Film Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

You gotta hand it to them: Another awesome poster.

For obvious reasons of development hell and complications with adding yet another horror franchise icon to the mix, in 2009, New Line Cinema opted to reboot the franchise with a remake of sorts. I say, of sorts, because ostensibly it’s a Friday the 13th remake, but … not really since the original doesn’t have Jason Voorhees (Pamela Voorhees, his mother, is the killer — spoiler!) and this one does.

That 2009 film would be the first new film in the franchise in six years, and the 12th overall film in the franchise in nearly a 30-year span. We have some heavy hitters joining Sean Cunningham as producer, mainly, Michael Bay. Yes, that Michael Bay. The fast-cutting, stylistic music video explosion-galore, action movie, Transformers and Armageddon Michael Bay. That Michael Bay. Apparently, Bay co-owns Platinum Dunes, which has remade a number of horror movies, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 (more on that in another post) and also, A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010. His co-owners on the production company, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, join him here.

In the directing chair is someone Bay pulled from his background of music videos, Marcus Nispel. Nispel also did the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Other than that, as I said, his main gig has been music videos in the 1990s for the likes of Elton John, Fugees, Bryan Adams, Spice Girls, and the B-52’s. A music video director is an interesting choice for a horror film. I think he pulled off the right aesthetic for Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, so we’ll see if he can here in 2009 with Friday the 13th.

Returning as writers, we have the duo of Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who you may remember, did the prior installment’s story for Freddy vs. Jason in 2003. Those two are also credited with the story, along with Mark Wheaton, whose only other film I’ve seen that he’s done is 2007’s The Messengers.

Going back to my original point, Wikipedia states that originally the film was seen as an origin story (which, for Jason Voorhees, would have been silly; we already know his story, and the less known about these killers the better), and then it became a “re-imagining” of the first four films of the franchise. So that’s how they can have Jason Voorhees in this one.

Fuller has it all wrong, I think. He wants to dig too much into the mythology of Jason Voorhees instead of doing another equel.

“I think there are moments we want to address, like how does the hockey mask happen. It’ll happen differently in our movie than in the third one. Where is Jason from, why do these killings happen, and what is Crystal Lake?” Fuller told suicidegirls.com in 2008.

Again, the less we know about these horror monsters, the scarier they are. As soon as you start diving into them, you lose that potency.

They also wanted to get away from it being set in the 1980s, the same way Texas Chainsaw Massacre was still set in the 1970s. But what makes these films great, in my opinion, is that 1980s aesthetic, which was lost with Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason.

That said, I do appreciate that we’re finally going back to Camp Crystal Lake and the aesthetic of the woods. That’s a welcome return to form, as again, a lot of the latter films in the franchise got away from that. The tagline, after all, is, “Welcome to Crystal Lake,” so they’re really emphasizing that point.

At least they recognize that making Jason Voorhees too sympathetic would be a problem, as they also told suicidegirls.com:

“We do not want him to be sympathetic. Jason is not a comedic character, he is not sympathetic. He’s a killing machine. Plain and simple.”

Looking at who is in front of the camera for this one, the funniest thing to me about doing these horror movie reviews is how many crossover situations there are between these films and Smallville and/or Supernatural, both CW shows I’m obsessed with. That’s no different here, as one of my boys in Supernatural, Jared Padelecki (who plays Sam Winchester on the show) is here in the lead as Clay Miller. I didn’t know that at the time when I saw it in 2009 because I wasn’t watching Supernatural yet and I also haven’t seen this film since 2009 (I have a notoriously bad memory and may be wrong about that), so I never connected those dots.

Danielle Panabaker, as Jenna Montgomery, is quite the “screen queem” herself playing in some memorable horror movies like 2007’s Mr. Brooks, 2010’s The Crazies, and 2010’s John Carpenter’s The Ward. She’s also been involved in some more CW shows as well.

Amanda Righetti, as Whitney Miller, is another name known to me well because she played on one of my favorite shows in the 2000s, as Grace Van Pelt on The Mentalist. I can’t see her as anything but Grace Van Pelt admittedly. Aaron Yoo, as Chad “Chewie” Wong, was the best friend to Shia LaBeouf’s character in another one of my low-key favorite 2000s horror films, 2007’s Disturbia.

Notably, Nick Mennell, as Mike Reynolds, is another one of those actors/actresses who crossed over: He was in the 2007 remake of Halloween as well.

The other actors and actresses seem to have rather successful big and small screen success, but I’m not familiar with that work.

The synopsis on this one may sound familiar to you, courtesy of Amazon Prime, “A group of young adults discover a boarded up Camp Crystal Lake, where they soon encounter Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions.”

DEADLY INTENTIONS!

We’re also at that 90-minutes-ish sweet spot for this franchise, so that’s welcome. Now that I just praised it, let me go back to criticizing it: Opening title sequences used to be much cooler. Now it opens with the production companies’ respective logos. What happened to the exploding mask and the 3D title?! We also don’t even get the title for the film until 25-minutes in, which is wild. Since this is more of a re-imagining than it is a remake, why didn’t they go with a different title? It annoys me to have two films that have the same exact title, but different years, obviously.

This one starts us at June 13, 1980 with Pamela Voorhees (played by Nana Visitor) trying to kill someone, but, like in the first film, gets her head chopped off for her troubles. Her young son, kid by the name of Jason Voorhees, comes upon her body after witnessing the death. We then hop nearly 30 years into the future into present day (2009) Crystal Lake.

A group of kids are there, with a couple of them hoping to find a lot of weed and get rich quick. Whitney is among this group, and already reticent about being there because of her mother dying of cancer, I believe (and her boyfriend insensitive to it, saying he wants sex basically).

A not-yet-hockey-mask-wearing Jason Voorhees shows up, moving quick, and dispatches (that is, kills) all of them except Whitney because she somehow resembles his mother, Pamela Voorhees. This might be the first incident of Jason Voorhees taking someone hostage across the 12 films, but I do like the idea of resemblance. After all, we saw Ginny in the second film play up that idea by pretending to be Pamela Voorhees to survive.

Oh, and that insensitive boyfriend, Mike, gets even more insensitive. They stumble upon Jason Voorhees’ humble abode, and when she gets freaked out by seeing JASON inscribed on a bed headboard, and wants to leave, he goes, “Oh come on.” Ugh.

We get another fun callback when Amanda (played by American Olivo) is kept in sleeping bag while Jason Voorhees dangles her over a bonfire. That’s a callback to other kills he’s done while the victim was still in the sleeping bag. Meanwhile then, Richie (played by Ben Feldman) tries to rescue her, but gets caught in a gruesome bear trap. The special effect of the bear trap ripping his left leg apart looks great.

I mean, remember folks, we’re 12 films into this franchise, so for this one to be able to open in a completely new way — Jason Voorhees already mowing down the first set of campers without the mask and taking someone hostage because they resemble his mother — is commendable. I also like the return to the second and third films’ Jason Voorhees who actually runs. It’s like the zombie thing: A zombie running after me is more intense than them staggering after me. Same holds true of Jason Voorhees (I won’t accept this logic with Michael Myers, but it works here).

Goodness, a great example and shot of the running: Whitney is trying to help Richie out of the of the bear trap, and we have Richie’s perspective of him looking behind Whitney toward the bonfire. His eyes grow wide, and we see Jason Voorhees sprinting behind her until he whacks Richie through the skull with a machete. What a great shot and moment.

I still maintain that Jason Voorhees in the pillow case or burlap sack over his head is still the most terrifying-looking Jason Voorhees. It’s more intimidating and scary than the hockey mask, even though it’s iconic.

We are then six weeks later, and with a whole new ensemble.

Continuing the inspiration from the first four films, particularly The Final Chapter, Clay is here to look for his sister, Whitney, who has gone missing. Unlike that film, though, where it was only a few days at best, it’s been six weeks here. That’s a believable time-frame for him to realize she’s missing and put together a plan to go searching for her.

Let’s hope it turns out better for Clay than it did for Rob (“Oh god, he’s killing me!”).

If I’m Jason Voorhees, I’m running from this guy.

Trent Sutton (played by Travis Van Winkle) might be the most unlikable guy in a Friday the 13th film. I’d have to look at past characters, but off the top of my head, he’s the most unlikable. There’s nothing redeeming about him. He’s a jerk to everyone, and it’s any wonder Jenna is with him. Seriously, a moment never comes where he even has a glimmer of redemption. He sucks, plain and simple.

He’s also overconfident thinking he can kick Clay’s butt. Uh, who would challenge a guy that looks like Padalecki?! The dude is six feet, four inches of brick. I ain’t messing with him. Even Jason Voorhees might want to think twice, which is an interesting point: I’m not sure we’ve had a protagonist who looks as formidable against Jason Voorhees as Clay.

The boat scene with Nolan (played by Ryan Hansen) and Chelsea (played by Willa Ford) is great. He gets a great looking arrow shot through the skull while he’s driving the boat, and the boat comes at Chelsea and bonks her on the head. Ouch. We don’t really know much about these characters, other than they want to party and are horny, but they’re not actively unlikable like Trent is, at least. These deaths are brutal.

We then get something new to the series: Clay and Jenna stumble upon Jason Voorhees’ dwelling, hear him coming, and hide nearby. Jason Voorhees then comes with somebody’s body. That’s the first time in the franchise, I believe, where other characters in the film are able to see what Jason Voorhees is doing, and that he’s a menace, this early on. Usually, it’s the final 20 minutes when characters realize there’s a homicidal psycho after them.

Predictably, predictably awful boyfriend, Trent, predictably cheats on Jenna with Bree (played by Julianna Guill) and predictably ignores the warnings about Jason Voorhees. Then he died, and I was so sad. That’s sarcasm, to be clear.

Holy crap, not sarcasm, he killed Jenna! Nooooo! That’s one of the only times in this franchise where the “final girl” or at least, someone who seemed to be set up to be the final girl, was killed. Dang, that was rough to watch.

Whitney, instead, ends up being our final girl even though we didn’t get much time at all with her other than knowing that she was sad about leaving he cancer-stricken mother, and that her brother, Clay, is looking for her after she goes missing. That said, when the time comes, she starts fighting back against Jason Voorhees quite well.

Even with how big Clay is, Jason Voorhees still manhandles him rather easily. It takes his sister, Whitney, pretending to be Pamela Voorhees, that helps save him and put an end to Jason Voorhees … for now. I do wish Clay had gotten a chance to be more bad-ass, but at least he was no Rob.

The ending is another nice nod to the ending of the third film, Part III, where Chris hacks Jason Voorhees in the head with an ax, and he still keeps coming with his hands outstretched before collapsing. Jason Voorhees does that here when his neck is wrangled with a chain attached to a wood chipper, and he reaches his hands out to Whitney.

They even keep up the mythology of returning Jason Voorhees to his watery grave.

You know, this truly is a “re-imagining” more than it is a remake, so you have to give them credit for that. If anything, it feels more like a 12th sequel than something remade or retread. They made a new film with nods to the original four films. I’m surprised this didn’t get a sequel. Supposedly one was set for Oct. 13, 2017 (why so many years?) and it never happened.

That makes the 2010s the first decade since the 1970s (obviously before the franchise existed) to not have a Friday the 13th film. That makes me oddly sad.

My main two issues with this film: It has that Michael Bay sheen, wherein it’s too glossy and pretty. Even though it has Nispel behind the camera, who directed the gritty and grimy Texas Chainsaw Massacre only six years prior, that aesthetic is lost here unfortunately; and secondly, a lot of the characters are unlikable. Fortunately, other than Jason Voorhees, the main three characters are likable and they were gutsy enough to kill one of them off. It’s too bad we didn’t get more time with Whitney, as she would rank up there with the other “final girls” of the series.

This film, on a budget of $19 million, made $42.2 million on its opening weekend, a record at the time for a horror-remake. It would go on to make $65 million, with an additional $26.5 million from overseas markets. That’s a good haul! How did this not get a sequel?! Given how well Freddy vs. Jason was the year prior and how successful this reboot was, it’s wild that we haven’t gotten a new film in 11 years. I know there’s a lot of legal rights issues, but come on!

Overall, I think this was a worthy entry into the franchise, and I’m sad we didn’t get to see more. If they switched director’s chairs and tried to get a bit more grimy instead of stylish, we would have a worthy sequel, too.

Running Jason Voorhees with the burlap sack is great. More of that please.

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