In the new, rebooted A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is not the Groucho Marx of slasher killers that he had become over the years, dispensing one-liners before and after goofy killings.
The new Freddy is a mostly humorless demon spawn, and he could’ve been the center of a decent horror film.
There’s an awful casting choice in Platinum Dunes’ latest horror remake, but it’s not Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. Haley proves a decent enough replacement for Robert Englund, who was essentially fired from the series. (Englund’s last cinematic appearance as Freddy was in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.) Haley is kind of creepy even before you put on the burn makeup.
It’s the casting of Nancy—the role played by Heather “What’s my face doing?” Langenkamp in Wes Craven’s original—that ultimately kills the movie. Rooney Mara lacks anything resembling charisma as Nancy, which was a pivotal role in Craven’s film.
In the remake, Nancy is supposed to be a main character as well, but she barely registers. That’s because Mara gives her no true sense of identity, rendering her scenes so dull it’s almost like they didn’t even happen.
Seriously, I’m having a hard time remembering anything significant that Mara did in this movie. Nancy sketches weird drawings, she mopes, she waits on tables, she mopes, she listens to The Cure ’cause she’s so “emo,” she mopes, she runs away from Freddy, and then, well, she mopes again.
Mind you, Langenkamp was no Jessica Lange either. Her Nancy always looked happy when she was supposed to look scared, and vice versa. But at least she had a pulse, and actually feigned engagement in the material. Mara seems genuinely uninterested in the craft of acting. The energy gets sucked out of the movie whenever she’s onscreen.
Despite its flaws, there are aspects of the film that I think contribute nicely to the Freddy lore. We get to see Krueger in flashbacks before fire rendered his face crispy and he started killing people in their dreams. Haley is good in these flashbacks, showing us the human side of Freddy and giving his skin a chance to breathe sans makeup.
There’s also a dark and disgusting twist that makes Freddy even more of an evil, vile force. Like Craven’s original, this movie puts more focus on the scares and less on the camp that came in the many, often-awful sequels.
Seriously, though, I want to take a moment to make an appeal for Haley. He’s being typecast as a creep and monster, and while it’s making him some bank, the guy is so much more. Witness the depth of his ’70s performances as Moocher in Breaking Away and, yes, Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears. He’s only gotten better in the last 30 years, and I think he’s capable of holding down a part of less monstrous quality. Give him a starring role in something where he isn’t killing people or leering at children.
Samuel Bayer directs the nightmare scenes competently in his feature debut. Especially good are the sequences involving Kris (Katie Cassidy), one of Freddy’s first victims. I liked when she thrashed around in mid-air before being dispatched. Some of the iconic moments from the original Nightmare—Freddy’s glove rising from the bathwater; Freddy’s face pushing through a wall—are recreated in this film.
The movie had a big opening weekend, and there’s already Internet chatter about a 3-D follow-up. I’m interested in seeing Haley taking another slash at the role.
You may recall that Langenkamp turned down a chance to reprise Nancy in the ’84 film’s first sequel. (She would reappear in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.) I’m hoping Mara pulls a Langenkamp, but takes things a step further and never appears in another Nightmare again.