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Friday the 13th (2009) Review

Friday the 13th was directed by Marcus Nispel (Exeter, Frankenstein), written by Damian Shannon (Freddy vs. Jason, Power and Glory) and Mark Swift (Baywatch, Genie) who reimagine a script by Victor Miller, and stars Jared Padalecki (Supernatural, Walker), Danielle Panabaker (The Flash, Shark), Travis Van Winkle (The Last Ship, Senior Love Triangle), Aaron Yoo (Youth in Oregon, The Bedford Diaries), Amanda Righetti (The Mentalist, Role Models), Arlen Escarpeta (The Oath, We Are Marshall), Willa Ford (Checkmate, Any Day), Julianna Guill (The Resident, Fired Up!), Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars, Death by Engagement), and Derek Mears (Compound Fracture, Cursed). It follows a group of friends and an outsider as they try to survive the wrath of a masked killer.

The Plot: Sean S. Cunningham’s original Friday the 13th didn’t have anything going for it, but this Friday has a plan. A brisk, mostly smart plan to retain the basic, almost nonexistent premise had, add onto it, and wrap it up in a slick but familiar package while managing to build a world far more competently than any of the original series.

Several friends, including Whitney (Righetti), are on a camping trip and on the hunt for a marijuana plantation. They find it and plan to pick from it the following day, but for now, the group settles in for the night. It doesn’t take long for things to go south though, seeing as all but Whitney get slaughtered by Jason (Mears). Shannon and Swift start things out with this daring sequence, setting up a story for later while pulling off a minor one in a mere 15 minutes.

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Weeks later, Trent (Van Winkle) takes his girlfriend Jenna (Panabaker) and friends Chewie (Yoo), Bree (Guill), Nolan (Hansen), Chelsea (Ford), and Lawrence (Escarpeta) on a vacation to his father’s lakeside house by camp Crystal Lake. Eventually accompanying the group is Clay (Padalecki), Whitney’s brother who’s looking for his lost sister. This mystery is the driving force, which has echoes of one of the very few interesting ideas throughout the initial spurt of sequels. In making this decision, some of the intrigue is lost, but any point to a Friday story is a step up from what came before.

Jason takes notice of the twentysomethings and begins his killings again, but Clay is determined to fight back and find his sister. Even with some additions, the story isn’t anything particularly special, as once the missing girl is found, the rest of the feature is built around survival, which is just enough to get by.

The Characters: Whereas the plot takes several steps forward into uncharted territory for the franchise, the characters take almost as many, if not more, steps backward than the previous entries.

Aside from Clay, who’s a loner with one goal of finding his beloved sister and will take no backtalk or resistance from anyone regarding the matter, and Jenna; who’s a mostly likable final girl dealing with a terrible boyfriend in Trent, the characters are walking clichés who point out that fact in Friday the 13th. Just because Shannon and Swift point out the clichés doesn’t negate the clichés. So stop it.

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Plenty of time is spent with these meat bags and their obnoxious dialogue and scummy behaviour (cheating, egomania, overly sexual focus, and copious usage of drugs) only serve to torture the audience until the subplot involving Clay’s search returns to the forefront. Stoners Chewie and Lawrence are at least entertaining in their brainlessness; doing dumb dares and making bad jokes to pass the time they don’t spend drinking or smoking. If the rest of the characters had at least this level of personality, the scenes with them wouldn’t drag as much as they do.

Jason, however, is different from before with trapper behaviour and speed that serves to make him an actionable threat that takes next to no prisoners. His backstory remains the same, but all of the key details are fit into a single movie, instead of being stretched across umpteen sequels.

Largely annoying as a roster, the characters of Friday the 13th are weak. Clay is a generic lead, but at least he’s not as outwardly unlikeable as the partiers. Jason, while essentially the same as he’s been in the past, has some enjoyable changes. I suppose that’s what matters the most.

The Horror: Nispel’s remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a solid showcase of his ability to create a macabre atmosphere by use of legacy locations and new ones that add to Jason’s character while still being claustrophobic and creative set pieces.

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Jason himself is genuinely terrifying in this remake because of his brutality, use of the environment, a myriad of unconventional weapons, and his newfound ability to move faster than a sloth on Ambien. Making him more than a lobotomized slowpoke raises the probability that the villain will find his victims before they’re prepared to run or fight – though the probability is virtually 100 percent, his speed makes this feel organic.

One of the few selling points to the first 11 movies were the kills, and even then there were only a couple per movie that were shocking, creative, or gory enough to warrant sitting through the rest of the movie for. Not so in the reimagining. From the opening sequence to the credits, this entry doesn’t hold back on the deaths, from tying someone up over a raging fire to fire pokers through the eye; the kills are nasty and cool at the same time.

The limiting factors to the scares are the grating characters that remove a sense of empathy which would’ve been beneficial to memorability, and the fact that, while undoubtedly far gorier than most entries in the franchise, Friday the 13th really only has that going for it. Is this all it truly needs to get the job done? Sure, but some boundary-pushing would be a welcome improvement.

The Technics: Being produced by Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes company has clearly benefitted the production, as this Friday is far and away the best looking and best sounding movie in the long-running franchise

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Nispel made the wise decision to bring back cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl (Mom and Dad, Hiding Out) to assist in another remake, and he does some truly fantastic work in selling the relative isolation and insecurity of the location, adding a foggy look to the campground once the characters arrive to emphasize the danger. Some creative kill shots are a nice breakup of the style when they appear, too. Paired with Nispel’s painting background, the look and feel of the 12th Friday is unlike any before.

Unfortunately, there’s still a bit of padding needed to make this feature-length, and it’s spent on quite a few too many sex scenes (your mileage may vary on this aspect) and a long final girl circuit. Since all but the newest viewers of the franchise know what’s coming, the time would’ve been better spent taking steps forward with the plot. Additionally, some spatial logic goes out the door in the opening sequence, and there’s literally zero way around it. Money was mostly well spent here, but that’s not to say Friday the 13th doesn’t fall into many of the same traps that its predecessors did.

Audiences will always exist for some slasher fare and rebooting the Friday franchise was a good idea since the Jason character is undeniably iconic and deserved at least one good outing, which he gets. Sinking the rating here are awful characters that make Jason feel welcomed, which is certainly in line with the others, but regrets like that don’t make Friday the 13th worth avoiding like its predecessors.

Friday the 13th is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K as well as on Digital platforms via Warner Bros. And if more holiday horror is what you’re looking for, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.

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