At this point in the Friday the 13th series, we’re really grasping at ways to (1) bring Jason Voorhees back from the dead and (2) tangentially relate the film to the others, actually giving Jason Voorhees a reason to kill everyone involved. This time around, there’s only one character who has a vague, possibly fictional relation to the masked killer, and apparently it’s been totally okay for Jason not to go after her all this time.
This one character is Rennie (Jensen Daggett), soon to be a high school graduate, who, along with a bunch of other graduates, gets to embark on a cruise ship bound for New York City. I suppose that’s where the subtitle Jason Takes Manhattan comes from in this eighth installment in the almost decade-old Friday the 13th franchise. Disappointing probably everyone who would want to watch this movie, Jason, and the surviving members of the cast, only get to New York after more than two-thirds of the film have already passed. For most of the film, we just get to watch Jason hack and slash his way through various teenagers on a ship.
That’s not completely fair. There are a few adults, too. None of these people, save for Rennie, have any relation to Jason. That makes the film lose something. And with the film set on a ship, there’s not a whole lot of variety to either the locations or the kills. Once you see the first couple of deaths in the film — Jason uses his signature knife, like he usually does — you’ve seen them all. Jason Takes Manhattan brings nothing new to the table.
We also get shown a bunch of jump scares that come in form of Rennie’s hallucinations. She sometimes sees a little boy, she sometimes sees Jason, and she also has a fear of water. Why? Well, you’ll find that out in the form of a revelation in the third act, which promises to link this one character to Jason. No prizes for guessing earlier than the film wants, because it’s not at all surprising and will make more than one palm be slapped against a face. Of all the twists in the franchise, this is by far the worst.
Do you know what could have saved the movie? Jason actually being in Manhattan. The boat scenes are formulaic and after we’ve seen the first few moments, it gets boring really fast. But, once we’re off the boat and wandering around a new environment, the film starts to pick up. Watching Jason sulking around New York is actually quite enjoyable, and some of the scenes where “normal” characters see him and try to interact with him are humorous. Sure, it’s not scary — and what happened to Jason’s M.O. of “kill everyone in sight”? — but it’s at least something different.
And at this point in the franchise, doing anything in a different way is appreciated. We’ve seen a lot of these scenes, kills, chases, etc. before. It’s hard to come up with something new after seven previous installments. Changing the location to a claustrophobic ship didn’t work particularly well, and got dull really fast, but New York? New York has an endless amount of possibilities. You can find new things on every street. Promising that with the film’s title and then not delivering is the biggest sin it could commit.
We also have to deal with insufferable drama involving an uncle, teacher, other students, and so on. It’s written in such a way that we’re not going to want to pay any attention to it, and in fact might hope that some of these characters wind up getting a knife through their chest. When the drama winds up taking priority over, you know, attempting to survive Jason’s onslaught, something is very wrong. You don’t let personal feelings ruin a chance at survival.
This might be the most confusing film in the franchise yet, in large part because of the tangential connection between Rennie and Jason which is hidden for most of the film, but also simply in terms of not always been aware of who is where. The editing and the cinematography don’t allow us to always have a proper sense of time and space. It’s just a poorly shot and edited production, and it’s that lack of quality which rubs off on the whole project.
Friday the 13th: Part VIII — Jason Takes Manhattan could have been worthwhile if it had stuck to its title and actually set the film in New York. By setting it on a ship, you limit your killer and characters by that setting, which is small and doesn’t provide an outlet for creativity. The poor cinematography and editing make navigating the ship confusing, and because of hallucinations you’re never sure what Jason’s doing. When we get to Manhattan, the film picks up, but it’s far too little and way too late to salvage this wreck of a movie.