If you haven’t seen a slasher film lately, Marcus Nisbett’s reboot of Friday the 13th feels paradoxically fresh. That’s probably because the genre is delivering a very specific product, so well-tested in eleven sequels that the only real challenge is not to ruin the formula. “I don’t know if it’s the tits or the murder,” my father once remarked, noticing I was renting a new Friday film every day. I’m still not sure, though I’m developing a hypothesis—but more on that later.
This is clearly the best Friday the 13th film yet. Though it lacks the cool gimmicks from previous installments (telekinetic girl, Manhattan, Freddy vs. Jason), more sequels will rectify that. You watch this movie, you want a sequel. It’s weird but palpable. You can feel in your gut why Friday the 13th is second only to James Bond in sheer sequel-numbers, though almost every individual Bond and Friday picture is middling-to-bad.
This just happens to be the Casino Royale of Friday the 13ths, on its own merits better than everything that came before. The filmmakers actually improve the formula, mainly through making the killed kids bearable. Freddy vs. Jason was nearly ruined by its unwatchable “protagonist” teens. Here they’re not self-aware like Scream, they’re simply fulfilling their basic functions, competently written and acted. One of the actresses was obviously cast because she had breasts that would make angels weep. Godspeed, Friday rebooters!
If Jason himself has changed, he’s newly Native American. He lives off the land, hunts with a bow and arrow, and hurls axes like that guy from Last of the Mohicans. He injures kids, sniper-style, to draw out their friends. He runs, collects bodies (you better use every last part of that teen, Jason!), sets traps and fashions crude alarm systems. To give you an idea of how genre-savvy the filmmakers are, somebody put an Indian “Calumet” brand logo in Jason’s cabin’s, harkening back to the “Indian Genocide”/”We are trespassing” motifs from The Shining. While it’s a stretch to liken trespassing on Jason’s land to the Native American genocide, it’s indisputable evidence of neurons firing, one of the rarest phenomena in America. When your production designer has read an obscure essay on The Shining from fifteen years ago, you’re in decent hands.
The previous movies made Jason an unstoppable zombie out of necessity, as he was inconveniently “killed” at the end of every film-eventually making “unstoppable zombie” Jason’s default designation, as there was simply nothing else to call a guy like that. Here Jason dies in such a way so as not to die, but it’ll be interesting-if ultimately irrelevant-to see how they handle his mortality. After twelve Friday films and a ton of other slasher movies, does Jason even need to “die?” Couldn’t a few teens just escape and consider themselves lucky? Are we gonna see Jason patching up that gaping wound in Part 2? Maybe you filmmakers should take the truism “The Audience Roots for Jason” a little more seriously and just have our hero kill ‘em all.
The kills in this installment are decent, if not terribly inventive. They’re machete-centric to a fault (although the one on the dock: nice). It was interesting to see Jason human again, and able to tussle with the kiddies. Considering Jason’s iconic nature and his new but not unwelcome characteristics, tweaking the kill-styles could be interesting. Who doesn’t want to see Jason go all Bourne Ultimatum on some little punk who does that mixed martial arts fighting? How about Jason slaughtering four camp counselors in four different ways in four seconds? “The Jason Bourne of teen-murder” is fresher than “unstoppable zombie.”
Why not give each teenager a characteristic (track star, chess grandmaster, karate, baseball, gun nut) and then have them face off with Jason? The track star could get into a running match, the chess player could have to engage Jason in a battle of wits, the karate guy could fight hand-to-hand, the baseball guy could get into a throwing match, or attack Jason with a bat, the gun nut could shoot and miss. That way it’d be like doubly tragic, in that “wasted potential of youth” way; no matter what your meager talents, you fail, you lose. That would further develop the appeal of these films to older audiences, who aren’t coming back to them again and again just out of nostalgia.
Conventional wisdom says slasher movies are mainly for teenagers, and the plots externalize adolescent anxieties. But conventional wisdom completely ignores the relationship between bright, promising adolescence and wretched adulthood, generally defined in modern Western societies as futilely attempting to prolong adolescence. (Like Doug Stanhope says, “I haven’t learned one thing in the last ten years that hasn’t just depressed me more.”)
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