Platinum Dunes needs to stop remaking horror movies. Time and again, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller have proven that they possess absolutely no understating of the mechanics of the genre by churning out glossy, air-headed horror retreads that mistake noise and nastiness for original, imaginative scares. Samuel Bayer, Wesley Strick, and Eric Heisserer's A Nightmare on Elm Street is a dull, contrived mess of horror clichés that jettisons all the surreal and unsettling aspects of Wes Craven's landmark original to leave us with a lifeless waste of time populated with pretty, pouty teens with no distinguishable personalities. Fecal is one word that comes to mind when thinking of adjectives to describe this pathetic attempt at reviving one of horror's most enduring franchises, though excretal, dungy, and ordurous also apply.
The action gets under way as suburban teen Dean (Kellan Lutz) struggles to stay awake in a local diner. A strange, burnt man with razor blades for fingers has been haunting his dreams, and now Dean fears that his nighttime tormentor may possess the power to do real harm. Almost immediately after pleading with Kris (Katie Cassidy) to help him stay awake, Dean plunges a steak knife into his own throat and dies. Later, at Dean's funeral, Kris attempts to relay his story to a friend, who dismisses her as delirious. But Nancy (Rooney Mara) believes Kris, and when Kris too perishes in a particularly gruesome manner as Jesse (Thomas Dekker) watches helplessly, Nancy and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) begin to suspect a connection between the killings. And they're right. Years ago, the parents in their small town discovered that Fred Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), the groundskeeper at a local preschool, had been doing terrible things to the local children. Enraged, they tracked him down and burned him alive. Now Freddy is back. He's conquered death, and come to claim the children he was denied in life. By attacking them in their dreams, he catches them at their most vulnerable. But Nancy and Quentin may have found a way to fight back.
The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is so devoid of any substance and creativity that it's difficult to pick a place to start pointing out its massive abundance of faults and missteps. In attempting to exploit the concept of the "micro-naps" suffered by the sleepless teens after being deprived of slumber for days on end, Strick and Heisserer make the fatal mistake of giving their charred antagonist far too much freedom for his own good, and failing to create the notable distinction between reality and fantasy that makes his menace so otherworldly. In their Nightmare, everything can be a dream, and Freddy turns up in just about every other scene. While at first this may sound like a clever means of keeping the scares coming, it quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive thanks to the fact that there's no suspense or sense of dreadful anticipation as to when we'll get our next glimpse of the wisecracking dream demon. By rushing into the killings, the screenwriters also fail to establish a recognizable reality to balance out the more fantastical dream elements, which only show any shred of inventiveness when lifted directly from the original (i.e. Freddy emerging from a bedroom wall and Nancy's bathtub encounter). Meanwhile, Bayer and cinematographer Jeff Cutter give their film all the malevolent atmosphere of a Holiday Inn hotel room, ensuring that even the constant reality shifts (sometimes piled one on top of the other) become mind-numbingly predictable.
Of course, some of this could be forgiven had the screenwriters given us characters to actually care about; instead, they populate the story with achromatic teens whose personalities are defined by cheap visual cues rather than action: Quentin is the sensitive, overmedicated teen who always appears to be on the verge of tears and whose Joy Division T-shirt indicates that he knows Interpol's origins; Nancy is the perceptive, artistic teen whose overcrowded easel reveals that her early childhood trauma helped to teach her how to wield a paintbrush. Meanwhile, unlike Nancy's mother hitting the bottle in her previous incarnation, neither of their parents displays any indication of having been deeply traumatized by the events of the past other than in one throwaway line uttered by Quentin's father (a severely underused Clancy Brown) late in the film.
Perhaps the sole redeeming quality of the movie (if there is one at all) is Haley's turn as Freddy Krueger -- but even that's debatable when compared to Robert Englund's iconic performances in the original film series. Despite giving the character slightly more dimension by appearing sans special-effects makeup in a dream/flashback sequence and playing up Freddy's fixation on Nancy (OK, Strick and Heisserer may deserve some credit here), Haley ultimately bungles things badly in the vocal department; his near-whispered, monotone delivery lacks the malicious ferocity that Englund employed to such memorable effect, and causes more than a few of Freddy's one-liners to fall completely flat. By the time Freddy starts dropping F-bombs, it's obvious the screenwriters have long since run out of clever quips for the verbose butcher of teens.
When all is said and done, Bayer's Elm Street feels like exactly what it is -- an unfortunate remake produced to capitalize on a well-known horror property, and to help a music-video director establish himself as a feature filmmaker. In the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy took Freddy's power away by turning her back on him and denying his existence. If only we could do the same thing with Platinum Dunes, perhaps they'd finally disappear and horror fans would be able to pretend the whole thing was just a bad dream.