Before Samuel Bayer’s re-imagining of horror classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street” hit theaters, moviegoers split in two groups. There was the “Robert Englund Reigns Supreme, Idiots!” camp; on the other side stood the “Jackie Earle Haley Almost Won an Oscar, So Give Him a Chance!” camp. (There were rumors of a splinter cell, known only as “Who Cares?”) Post-release, aside from the few odd defectors, both camps have remained intact.
Ipso facto, how this 21st-century recreation stacks up to the 1984 original depends on which camp you call home. For more than a year I held tight to the belief that Jackie Earle Haley is one scary-as-brimstone chap when he doesn’t wear knife-fingered gloves. He did not let me down. If anything, I like this Freddy Kreuger better than Robert Englund’s. (No, I’m not sorry I typed that. And yes, I am prepared to die for this cause.)
But in truth, so grim and bloodcurdling is Haley’s turn as Freddy Kreuger that it defies comparison to Robert Englund’s more impish trickster/murderer; the characters are that different. The sweater-and-hat getup is all the two have in common. Haley uses every part of himself — slitty eyes, body language, voice pulled up from the bowels of hell (thank you, voice enhancement) — to plunge the Sleepytime Slasher to new depths. Gone are the wordplay and sly sarcasm of yesteryear; Haley’s Kreuger has no time for trifles. There’s only one thing on his mind: killing the Elm Street teens who have forgotten him. But first comes the psychological torture. The glee he takes in that task is worth losing some R.E.M. sleep over.
Calling other aspects of this redux an unqualified success isn’t so easy. Some rearranging of the cast causes Bayer’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to lose some of the vigor Wes Craven’s film had. Bayer places so much emphasis on the sadistic murderer himself that the young actors disappear into the background, important only because they feed Kreuger’s perverted appetite. That’s not to say that wasn’t the case in other films in the “Nightmare” franchise and in 85% of horror films overall, but it’s a problem when the heroine, Nancy (played here by Rooney Mara), looks relatively unimportant until the last 45 minutes. We can’t help but compare her to Heather Langenkamp, the quick-thinking protagonist of Craven’s film who was capable of so much more than weeping and running for dear life. Bayer’s Nancy, through no fault of Mara, comes up short and leaves the 2010 update without a “good” to Kreuger’s “evil.” The setup of Nancy as Kreuger’s opponent needs to happen much sooner and much more clearly than it does. As a tradeoff, some of the dream sequences — especially Nancy’s — are more fluid while others are cheesy.
All this talk of Nancy requires for some kind of plot rundown for Bayer’s film. Anyone who saw the Wes Craven version has the idea, but Bayer exercises some liberties. Most notable is his re-envisioning of the story of Freddy Kreuger’s life and death, which includes allegations of physical abuse and pedophilia that may or may not be true. (This story, in my opinion, is more believable and less convoluted.) In 2010, Kreuger, with his burned face and soulless eyes, begins showing up in the dreams of Springwood’s teens: Kris (Katie Cassidy), Dean (Kellan Lutz), Jesse (Thomas Dekker), Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and Nancy. Because they don’t run in the same social circle, they barely know each other — or so they think. The element of parental cover-up is there, so the teens don’t realize that they share a history that might kill them all. Dead Teen-Ager Movies have a lot in common with Shakespearean tragedies that way.
By the you-saw-this-coming close, Bayer has made a few noteworthy changes as well as a few mistakes. Has he reinvigorated the series? Let’s not get crazy. But Jackie Earle Haley has made Freddy Kreuger a demonic force to be reckoned with, and his performance makes all the difference.
In regular clothing, Jackie Earle Haley is freaky enough that you wonder about him — mostly about if you could bust through the top of the elevator, alien-style, should you find yourself caught in there with him. Alone. Surely he’s the nicest guy, probably loves puppies and kittens and rainbows, but admit it: The man can conjure such frightful menace the only way you want to be in a room alone with him is if you have a fully-loaded Uzi. With back-up ammo.
And maybe an atom bomb for good measure.
So naturally the thought of him as Freddy Kreuger is wet-my-new-pants scary. My appreciation for his talents — extolled way back in July 2009 — leads me to think his performance as Kreuger in Samuel Bayer’s 2010 “Nightmare on Elm Street” will not let anyone down, and even might surprise more than a few Robert Englund devotees who swear the part can’t be played by anyone else. Couple that Jackie Earle Haley love with a positive review of his performance from my source for all things horror, Will at The Film Reel, and I’m still stoked. Perhaps it helps that unlike many cinephiles out there, I’ve just begun embracing the horror genre and I’ve only seen the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” (yeeeeeaaaars ago) and 2003’s gloriously terrible “Freddy vs. Jason,” so there’s little basis for comparison. Sometimes, when it comes to remakes, I consider that a very good thing.
And thus the countdown begins. Freddy’s back, and this time he’s not about to let Jason have all the fun.
Dry land, no matter where it’s located, offers some measure of comfort — a feeling of solidity, a foundation for the feet. Water does not. Its mysteries are limitless. Martin Scorsese means to capitalize on this elemental human fear early. Does he succeed? Please. The combination of the gray sky, choppy waves, an ashen-faced detective (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the score — which pulsates with supernatural menace — is dynamite. In these opening scenes, Scorsese yanks us around like marionettes. We’re right where he wants us.
He keeps on yanking throughout this long-delayed, atmospheric Gothic thriller/film noir send-up, perhaps having a chuckle as we labor to wrap our minds around the gnarled plot — much of Dennis Lehane’s tightly drawn novel is retained — and reason out characters who are beyond reason. “Shutter Island” is one of those films where everyone is hiding something; each line of dialogue seems designed to reveal everything and nothing. Listen, in particular, for Deputy Warden McPherson’s (John Carroll Lynch) greeting to the two federal marshals just off the boat: “Welcome to Shutter Island.” His eyes are a little teasing, but his tone says without saying: “You don’t know what you’re getting into.” Scorsese structures “Shutter Island” so that we don’t, either.
Here comes the tough part. To reveal too much of the plot would be criminal, so restraint will be the name of this game. No doubt you’ve heard lots of murmurs (some disgusted) about a twist; do not let anyone reveal it. Two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio, proving again he’s grown to deserve leading-man status) and Chuck Aule (a meh Mark Ruffalo) hop a ferry to Boston’s Shutter Island, the grim site of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. (Sublime character actors like the ever-creepy Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson get cameos.) It’s their first case together, and they’re an odd pair: Teddy’s a visibly haunted man while nothing sticks to the low-key Chuck. They believe they’ve come to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), locked away after drowning her three children. Though no one at Ashecliffe can or will explain her disappearance, chief psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) has a theory. “It’s as if she evaporated straight through the walls,” he says. Kingsley’s slight smirk is cause for a few lost hours of sleep.
The investigation may be a sham. Patients and hospital staff may or may not have been coached. A recovering alcoholic, Teddy, still reeling from the death of his wife (Michelle Williams), may be a reliable or an unreliable protagonist. Rachel Solando may or may not have had help escaping her tiny, barred-in room. The only certainty is there is no certainty. So “Shutter Island,” essentially, is 138 minutes of known unknowns wrapped in a damn stylish package. Little Did He Know noir throwbacks rarely looked this good. The predominantly gray, chilly colors — of the island, the hospital itself — provide a terrific backdrop for such a twisted story about twisted people. Shots of Ward C, home to the most dangerous offenders, show a Gothic castle of untold horrors, where every corner is dark and puddled. Here “Shutter Island” very nearly swerves into horror territory. It comes closer with Scorsese’s envisioning of Teddy’s dreams, so bright they shatter the grimness. Not unlike Dario Argento in “Suspiria,” Scorsese uses the camera like a paintbrush, splashing rich reds and golds and greens against Ashecliffe’s walls and the island’s rocky shores. If despair is dingy, then horror is technicolor.
Sometimes the artistry goes too far at the expense of other elements. There are enough continuity errors as to be distracting (one stopped me cold during a white-knuckle scene). The music occasionally overpowers the characters — about whom, by the way, we learn virtually nothing. They are foreboding (Max von Sydow as Dr. Naehring is downright spine-chilling), and yet their emotional impact is nil. Even Teddy, whose story we come to know and whom DiCaprio imbues with repressed grief and palpable heartbreak, only registers faintly. Then again, “Shutter Island” isn’t out to warm our hearts. The film means to play brains and emotions like piano keys, and it does. And in a psychological thriller? Sometimes that’s more than enough.
Filed under: New Stuff, Reviews | Tagged: Dennis Lehane, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, Laeta Kalogridis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese, Max von Sydow, Michelle Lynch, Patricia Clarkson, Shutter Island, Sir Ben Kingsley | 14 Comments »
…only 11 more days until my year-long misery is ended and “Shutter Island” is released!
Since I blabbered on about my excitement here, I’ll spare you a repeat performance and leave you instead with the trailer. Scorcese, don’t fail me now!
Filed under: Random Thoughts | Tagged: Elias Koteas, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, Leonard DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorcese, Patricia Clarkson, Shutter Island, Sir Ben Kingsley | 16 Comments »
1. It’s Martin Scorcese. MARTIN SCORSESE, the man who gave us “Raging Bull,” “GoodFellas” and “The Departed.” If that doesn’t sell you, nothing will.
2. The cast. The quickest of quick glances down the cast list is enough to make my heart skip about 14 beats. Say what you want, but Leonard DiCaprio has grown into a most accomplished, chameleon-like actor. Mark Ruffalo as his wisecrackin’ sidekick? Le sigh. And let’s not forget Sir Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and (my personal favorite) Jackie Earle Haley. Oh my. I do believe I’ve got the vapors.
3. The book. Any Dennis Lehane fans out there know instantly “Shutter Island” is an adaptation of Lehane’s insanely tense, intelligent thriller of the same name. Does that mean we should hate it immediately, no questions asked? Hell no! Lehane wrote “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone,” and both went on to become fan-freakin’-tastic films. Goes to show that when you start with a genius book, it takes a special kind of idiot to screw up the movie. And good ole’ Marty? He’s got a lot going on upstairs.
4. The setting. Boston is the new New York. Haven’t you heard? It’s leaner, meaner, darker, sneakier and less forgiving — all of which makes it the perfect locale for top-notch crime dramas. (Sorry, N.Y.C. We’ll still be friends!)
5. The horror component. Though Scorcese comes up aces in the crime drama and gangster epic genres, he’s only done one movie (the forgettable but not horrible “Bringing Up the Dead”) that vaguely resembles a scary movie. Since Scorcese never does anything halfway, I can’t wait to see his conception of a horror-thriller.
The countdown to February 19, 2010 begins!