Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

I think, finally, after five movies, I’ve started to get won over by the Friday the 13th franchise. That, or worn down; I’m not entirely sure which and I don’t know if that distinction is one that I wish to make. If I told you I actually had some fun with A New Beginning, the fifth chapter in the hack-and-slash horror series, I would be saying it seriously for the first time. The other movies have ranged from downright awful to just about passable entertainment. This one steps up to actually being watchable and almost recommendable.

Essentially, the film does what it needs to do and does it with an occasional wink at the audience. This is a funnier version of Friday the 13th, and I appreciated it for that. It’s still violent, and has perhaps some of the best kills in the franchise — at least for a little while — but its director, Danny Steinmann, knows the whole idea is silly and advises us to take it all laughing. We’ve seen this basic plot play out four times prior, so this self-aware approach helps to freshen things up a bit.

A change from the earlier installments is that there’s a central character this time around. I think this might be the first time I’ve (1) managed to remember a character’s name and (2) almost cared about him or her. The protagonist is Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd), whom you’ll remember from the last film, where he was a little kid and wound up killing Jason Voorhees, the serial killer of the franchise since the second movie. Now, he’s grown up and suffers from any number of mental issues caused by the trauma inflicted on him earlier.

He’s first seen being transported to a new institution, one in which there are no guards, restraints, or regulations. It’s run by a guy who believes that in order to help patients, they have to be given freedom similar to what they’d have in the “real world.” This allows for us to see a whole host of mental patients, and like Part II, we can tell them apart because of a specific personality or aesthetic trait. One stutters, one is always wearing headphones, one’s a kid who is there because his grandfather works there, etc.

Murders start occurring. You’re watching a Friday the 13th film, so you had to expect that. Tommy sees visions of Jason, but they’re just hallucinations brought on by his earlier trauma. Or are they? People are actually dying, and we see Jason killing them even if Tommy isn’t anywhere near the scene, so who gets to decide what’s real and what isn’t? The filmmakers use this technique to trick us every now and then, and it’s effective at doing that.

The first few kills in the film are quite inventive. Or, they are in comparison to most of the others in the series, which usually come from Jason, a knife, and the knife being stabbed into a squishy, vital body part. This one sees him actually use different methods, at least at the beginning. There’s some mayhem in the middle in which all he does is stab his victims, but that’s only for a brief period of time. For most of the movie, the deaths aren’t done in a fashion we’ve seen before in this series, and that’s to be appreciated. There are only so many stabbings one can see before it gets boring.

And despite the film not taking place anywhere near Camp Crystal Lake, having an actual protagonist, and far more adults getting killed than in prior installments, thematically A New Beginning has more to do with the original film than any of its sequels. I don’t know if many people will care about that — I barely do — but at least it’s another argument in favor of this fifth chapter.

The acting is also not quite as bad as it has been before, and the dialogue at least sounds like it’s been written by someone who has had human interaction at some point in his life, so those are both positives that I’ll easily take. Perhaps this is because many of the characters aren’t “normal” — many of them are mental patients, after all — and this makes them easier to write from the perspective of the screenwriters, or maybe it’s because it took three of them — Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, and our director, Danny Steinmann — to finish the screenplay.

A New Beginning still isn’t scary, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that the series is never going to be. There is the occasional jump moment, but sustained atmosphere and tension just don’t seem to ever be something that the filmmakers are striving for. I’d like that to be the case, but it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. We’re here for the kills, and not to be scared, I guess. Could we have both? Probably, but I’ve accepted that likely won’t happen.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning might just be the movie to endear me to this franchise, assuming that any future chapters are just as strong as this one. It has creative kills, an actual lead character who gets sympathy points because we’ve seen him go through what has to be a traumatic experience, a supporting cast we can tell apart, dialogue and acting that doesn’t seem entirely unnatural, and enough tongue-in-cheek moments to keep things funny. I enjoyed A New Beginning.

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