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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

Friday the 13th  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Marcus Nispel.
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Derek Mears, Aaron Yoo, Arlen Escarpeta, Julianna Guill, Willa Ford, Ryan Hansen, Richard Burgi, Jonathan Sadowski, Ben Feldman, America Olivo, Kyle Davis, Nana Visitor, Stephanie Rhodes.
2009 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence, graphic sexual content, language and drug material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 10, 2009.
Less a straight remake than a reinvention of the long-running slasher franchise, "Friday the 13th" incorporates elements from the first four films of the original series while never deluding itself about just what kind of movie it is. Director Marcus Nispel (2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") isn't nearly ambitious enough to raise this modern upstart above its '80s-era predecessors, and instead embraces all of the things fans have come to expect: nubile young adults, isolated woodsy locations, recreational drug use, copious amounts of sex and breasts, and a blood-splattered killing every few minutes. Don't expect character development, because there scarcely is any. Don't expect great underlying meaning, because it won't be found. "Friday the 13th" proudly wears its genre formula on its sleeve, and really, who could ask for anything more?

Following an opening credits sequence set in 1980 that pits the only surviving camp counselor (Stephanie Rhodes) against Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor), herself out to avenge the supposed drowning death of her young son Jason, narrative skips ahead to the present day. A group of randy campers looking for a marijuana farm wind up on the long-abandoned property of Camp Crystal Lake and, one by one, are picked off by a grown-up, hood-wearing Jason (Derek Mears). What seems like it could be the climax of any other picture is merely a prologue, and it is twenty-two minutes in before the title card graces the screen.

Cue the plot proper. One month later, after the police investigation is called off, Clay (Jared Padalecki) arrives in the area in search of sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who vanished on that fateful night. His arrival coincides with that of a group of college chums headed to spend the weekend at hunky hothead Trent's (Travis Van Winkle) family lake house. When nice girl Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) offers to help Clay look for his sibling, the two of them stumble upon the property of Jason's ramshackle childhood home, and he is none too pleased with trespassers.

"Friday the 13th" is what it is—a slasher flick with a high body count—and as such it is a pretty good one, at least as capable as most of the earlier movies in the series. Far superior to 1993's moronic "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" and 2002's awful space-set "Jason X," "Friday the 13th" feels like an old-fashioned, bare-bones entry, getting down to business by introducing its cast of stereotypical characters and then knocking them off in systematic fashion. The one obvious deviation from the former mythology, in which the viewer is forced to believe that Jason has taken a hostage who happens to resemble his dead mother, is utter nonsense and should have been excised from the shooting script.

While on the topic, the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (2003's "Freddy vs. Jason") gives little care to dialogue or nuance in exchange for a slew of creatively bloody ways to dispatch Jason's victims. Fortunately, the pacing is quick enough that one barely notices the one-note characters, the scares work well when they aren't overly predictable (a scene set underneath a dock is a quick, brutal, surprising highlight), and subtle homages to past films—i.e. the hood and Mrs. Voorhees' rotted decapitated head from 1981's "Friday the 13th Part 2," the barn and discovery of the hockey mask from "Friday the 13th Part 3," the character looking for his missing sister from 1984's "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter"—are neatly juggled together.

Walking into a "Friday the 13th" movie, one should know what to expect. On those grounds, the film delivers. Acting is perfunctory—Danielle Panabaker (2007's "Mr. Brooks"), as Jenna, and Arlen Escarpeta (2006's "We Are Marshall"), as tokin' token black guy Lawrence, are virtually the only people we grow to care at all about—with the majority of the cast asked to look attractive until their death scenes. When the stalking and carnage arrive, the film actually holds moments of true suspense. On the downside, the generic music score by Steve Jablonsky (2007's "Transformers") takes too few advantages of Harry Manfredini's classic "ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma" riffs, and the cinematography by Daniel C. Pearl (2007's "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem") is undistinguished and falls into the shaky-cam trap on a few occasions. These are small prices to pay, though, for what, in essence, is a return to form for a series long thought past its prime. "Friday the 13th" isn't high art—remember that the 1980 original, a knockoff itself of 1978's masterful "Halloween," wasn't, either—but both share the same ultimate trait: they're fun while they last.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman