Reliving the ‘Nightmares’: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (2010) doesn’t justify its existence (Movie review)

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rom Sept. 18-Oct. 16, we’re looking back at the nine films of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. Wrapping it up is the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” remake (2010):

The early part of the century saw a glut of remakes of big-name properties, apparently because they were an easy way to make money. Today, most of those movies have been forgotten – and rightly so. Among the most forgettable is director Samuel Beyer’s 2010 version of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It nominally aims to add horror back into the most humorous of the Eighties slashers, but its heart isn’t in it, and it ends up being worse than the new versions of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Halloween” and even “Friday the 13th.”

It’s ineffective for two reasons. One, it’s not gratuitously horrific or titillating, so it lacks even the puerile aspects of 2009’s “Friday the 13th.” And two, it doesn’t commit to making Freddy Krueger into a layered villain, even though Jackie Earle Haley (the “Watchmen” movie) indeed aims for scary rather than goofy.

Freddy is initially painted as an innocent gardener at a preschool who is wrongly accused of abusing kids. Then it turns out he was abusing the kids after all. However, on this count, the film – despite being rated R — is tamer than an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer deliver one of those horror movies that has a mystery vibe (which helps make it barely watchable), but in the end there isn’t a layered mystery.

Despite being rated R, “Nightmare” is tamer than an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer deliver one of those horror movies that has a mystery vibe, but in the end there isn’t a layered mystery.

At first, “Nightmare” does that annoying movie thing where sequences end up being dreams, but the film smooths out once it’s clear that Freddy attacks the teens in the dream world and therefore it doesn’t even matter which reality we’re seeing. Precisely how Nancy (Rooney Mara) has the ability to pull Freddie out of the dream world is ill-explained.

Keeping “Nightmare” mildly engaging is a strong cast. Mara (later of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) was getting buzz at this point as a future star, Thomas Dekker was coming off “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Katie Cassidy was coming off “Harper’s Island,” and Kyle Gallner channels “Dawson’s Creek’s” Michael Pitt as a shy teen who likes Nancy. Connie Britton (amid her run on “Friday Night Lights”) looks tired and Clancy Brown hides behind his beard as best he can.

One thing that’s kind of neat about the screenplay is that we focus on a distinct teen for a stretch of time, so by the time Freddy inevitably kills them, we know who they are.

“Nightmare” is technically competent, with some appropriate bad-dream settings such as the underground abandoned factory where Freddy resides. Still, nothing stands out above the famous bathtub scene – where Freddy’s hand reaches between a dozing Nancy’s legs – which is a straight repeat from the 1984 original.

The whole enterprise is handcuffed by its unwillingness to make Freddy sympathetic or, alternatively, to make his actions visceral and skin-crawling. Haley’s turn is not goofy, but nor his version of Freddy allowed to be truly scary. The result is a film that fades from memory like a dream upon waking.

Schedule of reviews:

Friday, Sept. 18: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Wednesday, Sept. 23: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (1985)

Friday, Sept. 25: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (1987)

Wednesday, Sept. 30: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” (1988)

Friday, Oct. 2: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child” (1989)

Wednesday, Oct. 7: “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” (1991)

Friday, Oct. 9: “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994)

Wednesday, Oct. 14: “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)

Friday, Oct. 16: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010)

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