Modern horror remakes have ranged from the surprisingly good (Dawn of the Dead) to the abysmal (Friday the 13'th). The remake...er, re-imagining, of A Nightmare on Elm Street falls somewhere in the middle. The biggest problem with the film is that there are so few innovations in the first half that you begin to wonder why it was green-lit in the first place.
We begin with Kris (Katie Cassidy) witnessing the suicide of her sleep-deprived, nightmare-plagued boyfriend. Soon her own dreams are plagued by the sweater-clad, beclawed human briquette known as Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley). Just like in the original film, Kris pulls a Janet Leigh in Psycho and our attentions are then diverted towards Nancy (Rooney Mara), an artistic, moody, withdrawn teenager who *Surprise!* is cursed by the same boogeyman. Bolstered by her similarly-haunted potential boyfriend Quentin (Kyle Gallner), the pair struggle to minimize the spiraling body count while attempting to unravel the dark secrets that link the victims together.
This version of Nightmare didn't exactly improve my low opinion of remakes. The plot is slavishly close to the original and many of the old nightmare tropes have been recycled. We get a slashing victim rolling around on the ceiling, a clawed glove breaking the surface of bathwater, a surprisingly-mobile body-bag occupant and the floor turning into goo underfoot. At least these sequences are strung together in a reasonably-competent manner and a respectable amount of tension is generated as a result.
But then, at the film's mid-way point, director Samuel Bayer and his screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer finally begin to make some bold moves by screwing around with our perceptions of Krueger. As a result, Jackie Earle Haley gets more to do here than Robert Englund ever did in the original. We get flashbacks of him with the characters as kids and we're kept guessing about Freddy's motivations right up to the very end.
Although Jackie Earle Haley's showing here certainly doesn't eclipse Englund's, he definitely has the chops to give the role a unique and uber-creepy twist. In fact, the remake's performances compare quite favourably to the original. Understated and appropriately sullen, Rooney Mara's take on Nancy is a lot more even, despite the fact that she lacks the memorable charisma of Heather Langenkamp. Instead of narrowly avoiding "close calls" with Krueger or awkwardly wrestling with him, the characters experience a lot more genuine peril at the climax of this version.
Although the surfeit of jump-scares gets a bit tired after awhile, Samuel Bayer stages many of the scenes for maximum visual impact. Lord knows I'm not the biggest fan of CGI, but given the current state of technology I'm really surprised that the film-makers didn't come up with some new, creatively-unrestrained nightmare imagery instead of just reproducing set pieces we've already seen before. This is probably a blessing in disguise since the obligatory scene of Freddy's face emerging from the wall looks a lot less creepy then the original practical lighting effect.
So, did we really need this version of A Nightmare On Elm Street? No, not really. But with its decent performances, harrowing personal confrontations and Jackie Earle Haley on hand to remind us why Freddy was scary in the first place, this version isn't completely without merit.