I watched the Nightmare on Elm Street remake a few days ago (sorry--I've been busy in my non-blog life, so this was the earliest I could get my review online). I wanted to see it before the new Iron Man movie uses its repulsor rays to blast it off of my geek to-do list. While I'll try to avoid any major spoilers in this review, those who wish to watch the new Nightmare with fresh eyes should probably steer clear of this review. My opinion in a nutshell is that the film as it stands now is just OK, and nothing more than that. For those wishing to be spoiled, read on after the break.
I'll get the good parts of the movie out of the way first. Overall, the film was well cast (particularly Jackie Earle Haley as the new version of Freddy Krueger) and each actor puts in a good performance based on what the script gives him/her to do. The new post-burn Freddy makeup is particularly impressive, because it is more accurate in terms of what severe burns do to human flesh and it makes Freddy look much less human than his predecessor. With his pointed noes and ears and broken smile, the original Freddy was somewhat reminiscent of a gargoyle or a demon. In contrast, with his diminished brow, nose, chin and lips, the new Freddy almost looks like one of those gray-skinned aliens that the UFO abduction crowd keeps talking about. The remake goes to great lengths to emphasize the helplessness and desperation of Freddy's victims, how the lack of sleep is slowly, inevitably wearing them down--to the point of waking hallucinations--and that there's nothing they can do about it. I always felt that this sense of desperation was lacking in the original Nightmare movies, so I'm glad to see it done in the remake.
Unfortunately, these strengths cannot overcome the remake's many weaknesses. The heroine Nancy Holbrook (replacing Nancy Thompson in the original) really doesn't get much of a chance to assert herself as the main character, even though that's who she ends up becoming just by default towards the end. She's a gothy wallflower throughout most of the film so she's easy to overlook, and the filmmakers' inital approach to Freddy's teenage targets has more of an ensemble feel to it, thus watering down that audience's chance to invest emotionally in a central character. (In fact, the remake changes the back story of Freddy and the town of Springwood just enough that the significance of Elm Street itself is greatly reduced; thus, this film's title could've dropped the words Elm Street and it wouldn't have made a difference.) While there is an effective attack sequence which takes place in a pharmacy, where Freddy attacks a teenager who is fluctuating between a sleep-deprivation-induced hallucination and reality, most of the other attacks lack the suspense and personality that distinguished the original Nightmare.
The film's greatest drawback is its attempt to provide a more detailed explanation of Freddy's motives and his relationship to his victims. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but the filmmakers' lack of willingness to follow these changes through to their logical dramatic conclusion, which would have made this Nightmare considerably different than the original, hobbles the remake's attempt to succeed as a horror film.
Watching this remake reminded me of The Invasion, the 2007 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Invasion changed the Body Snatcher story by switching the alien pods--giant plants which generate emotionless clones to replace people--with microscopic alien spores which infect people and take over their minds. Changing this narrative detail should have made The Invasion a leaner, meaner version of the Body Snatchers story; after all, without the aliens having to lug around bluky pods in order to facilitate their invasion of Earth, their attack on humanity should have been relentless, nerve-jangling nightmare. Yet The Invasion was determined to maintain dramatic beats similar to the previous Body Snatcher films (I suppose so it would qualify as a "remake") even though they didn't fit the changes to the narrative, thus resulting in a film that fails to generate any real suspense, surprises, or terror.
The same problem applies to the new Nightmare. In the original film, Freddy was a serial killer of children who somehow beat the criminal charges filed against him but was killed by a lynch mob of angry parents. He later gets his revenge by using nightmares to kill the children of the parents who killed him. In the remake, the pre-lynch mobbed Freddy is not a child killer but a child molester, and the teenagers he is killing were kids he molested many years earlier. This back story isn't revealed until just after the halfway point of the film, which then raises the question (at least for me) of why Freddy is killing his victims at all when he wasn't a killer before he was mobbed. Such a revelation also renders Freddy's iconic razor-fingered glove and the "Freddy's coming for you" chant rhyme meaningless within the context of the movie. Towards the end of the film Freddy himself says, "Your memories of me keep me alive", which further emphasizes the narrative contradiction of Freddy killing the only people who would remember him in the most nightmarish way.
One of the characters mentions the idea that people can fall into a coma if they are deprived of sleep for a long period of time; if that's the case, then it would have made more sense for Freddy to drive his victims into comas where he can then torment them in nightmares that will never end. Yet because this is a remake of a slasher film, Freddy has to kill his victims in ways similar to the original Freddy instead of following means and methods that would've better fit his new motives. Then again, the remake itself would have probably raised oodles of controversy of they completely changed Freddy from nightmare killer to nightmare sex criminal--the scene where Freddy tells Nancy how she was his "favorite" was nauseating enough--so one can only wonder why this change was even put in the script in the first place.
If the filmmakers behind the Nightmare remake had more freedom in exploring their interpretation of the original story, the remake might have been a more interesting and evocative horror film. Unfortunately, its desire to be both something new and something nostalgic at the same time without resolving the unavoidable contradictions make this film fizzle, with little more than its name to generate interest.