In 2009, Friday the 13th was rebooted after 10 or 11 films (depending on how you count Freddy vs. Jason). This retold version of the story is a combination of the first, second, and third movies of the original series, while also being an entirely new and modern take on the story.
As in the original first film, this one starts with a prologue about irresponsible camp counselors being slaughtered by a crazed Mrs. Vorhees. As with the original, it's not entirely clear whether her son actually did drown or whether she was living a split reality, or whether she thought he'd drown but he was hiding in the woods for years without her knowledge or he'd just risen suddenly from the lake as a demonic entity.
The prologue occurs entirely during the opening credits. After that, the movie begins proper.
Or does it?
When we're introduced to the cast of teenagers we're going to watch get slaughtered, they're not new camp counselors. Instead, it's a bunch of annoying young adults on the hunt for the GPS coordinates of a secret crop of marijuana one of them heard about from a friend of a friend. Unlike the gang of the firt few original films, this group of friends are all pretty annoying, although I do suspect that one or two of them are meant to be at least innocuous. We don't spend enough time with them for anyone to endear themselves. Melanie is least annoying and seems relatively sensible, but that's only in contrast to the rest of the group, and because she's feeling guilty about having left the bedside of her sick mother for the weekend to come out on a camping trip.
While exploring the woods in lieu of having sex, Melanie and her boyfriend stumble upon the legendary, and long abandoned, camp at Crystal Lake. They find a shrine to Mrs. Vorhees, complete with her decapitated head. They also find a locket with the photograph of a young Mrs. Vorhees in it, and Melanie's boyfriend comments that "she looks like you." Obviously if you've seen the second movie of the original series, you know exactly the story beat this is setting up.
The first kill of the movie happens at the 12 minutes mark. Yes, within the first 12 minutes of the film, Jason claims his first victim. By 23 minutes, they're all dead.
Or are they?
Well, whatever happens, the title card of the movie appears (yes, not until 23 minutes in), and then we get a new group of annoying young adults. This bunch is even worse than the first. Their self-appointed leader is wealthy, self-absorbed, and rude. And then there are not one but two useless stoners, and two young ladies.
This time it's for real. This is the group we're stuck with for the rest of the movie. These are the irresponsible teens (or early 20s, anyway) we're going to watch die grisly deaths.
In the mean time, Clay, the brother of one of the girls (Melanie) from the start of the movie, turns up looking for his missing sister. He manages to team up with Amber, the one sympathetic girl of the [new] bunch, and they head off to the camp at Crystal Lake. And that's where things really kick off.
While at the camp, they have a close encounter with Jason, as he returns to his cabin carrying the body of the blond girl he's recently murdered. It's a tense sequence, and one that somewhat echoes the start of [Jason X]/games/blog/culture_friday-13-10) with the big halogen lights illuminating the area. They get away with their lives, frantically returning to the party house to warn Amber's friends.
Their warning arrives just in time, although it interrupts a fun sex scene and a bunch of drunken shenanigans. But one by one, Jason claims his victim, and soon only Amber and Clay remain.
They eventually manage to find an underground lair that Jason maintains, where he's been keeping trophies of his kills, I guess, along with his greatest prize of all: his mother. Of course, it's not really his mother, but Melanie, the woman he thinks is his mother, from the first annoying gang. A chase scene ensues and we, bizarrely, swap one brunette for another: now that Melanie's back, we lose Amber to Jason's knife, and continue the remainder of the film with the sibling duo of Clay and Melanie. This struck me as an odd choice. Especially given the frantic pace the film has taken by this point, it took me several minutes to understand which girl got killed and which one we were following.
You have to wonder whether it even matters. We don't know either of them very well, and so this girlswap somewhat uncomfortably exposes the fact that none of the people we're following on screen have much of a story.
A defining trait of the original films is that the characters were fun and engaging without the inconvenient subplot of a murderous rampage. Remove the slasher part of the original slasher films, and the stories being told were interesting, even if just for the relationships of the characters.
In the new iteration, though, there are no characters. There are the barest suggestions of stories, like the hunt for the hidden crop of marijuana, a sick mother, a strained but loyal sibling relationship, but mostly these are the abstracted archetypes of horror movie victims. And it's true that Friday the 13th helped create those archetypes, but in truth it was rarely if ever guilty of substituting them for actual character development. Friday the 13th movies often started with those archetypes, but it built up stories and characters and personalities around them.
Not this one, though. This Friday the 13th is post-modern enough to fall victim to its own stereotype.
But then again, is that such a bad thing?
Despite my critique, this movie is actually a very good Friday the 13th. I think part of the reason reboots are so popular right now is that there's something special about the act of discovery. Everybody knows how Bruce Wayne became Batman, and how Batman came to be a city's feared but respected guardian, and yet there are three or five or ten Batman movies depicting the early days of the Dark Knight. Everybody knows that Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider, and yet there are several different trilogies about Spiderman's rise to glory.
Most everybody watching this Friday the 13th already knows that it's going to be about a guy in a hockey mask killing people. But it's fun to get to experience it again along with the characters in the world of the movie. It's unsettling to hear about the local legends, and it's spooky to explore the strangely familiar abandoned cabins in the woods, and it's horrific to finally see Jason through Melanie's or Amber's eyes. It's an envigorating experience, and The details, by comparison, are superfluous. In fact, the Jason in this movie frankly seems a little more Michael Myers than Jason Vorhees. There are some scenes where he almost toys with his victims. And the idea of Jason taking a prisoner, even one he seems to believe is his mother, doesn't quite fit with what a longtime Friday the 13th fan knows.
Jason is a supposed to be a relentless stalker, but an efficient killer. Once he's located his victim, they're dead within seconds. And yet there were enough exceptions in the original films that this version of Jason is close enough.
Similarly, the cast of annoying young people are close enough to what we knew in the originals. The music is close enough. The settings is good enough. The plot points are lifted out of the first three movies, from the murderous mother to the deceptive doppelganger and the final showdown in a farmhouse.
In other words, this is a Friday the 13th movie, and an exciting one. You don't have to worry about the lore, or which Jason killer preceeded the current one, and what superpower they used to kill him or resurrect him by accident, or whether Jason is a demon or a human. There's no baggage. This is everything that Friday the 13th has been, and it's nothing that it's ever been before. If you want a fast-paced, bombastic, spooky, horrifying, and fun Friday the 13th film, this one delivers.
This is the a post in a series of Friday the 13th reviews: