Friday the 13th (2009)

The last time that Jason Voorhees graced cinematic screens across the country in a film in his own franchise, it was in 2001 with Jason X, the tenth film in the Friday the 13th series. Made on a budget of just $14 million, the film didn’t do terribly well at the box office, and save for a crossover with Freddy Krueger, the character wouldn’t appear again until this film, a reboot, retooling, remake, reimagining — it’s definitely a re-something, okay? — of the original 1980 Friday the 13th.

Well, it’s a remake before the title card, or at least, it does a small skit which resembles that original film’s ending. We see Mrs. Voorhees tracking down the last poor camp counselor, only to find her head swiftly removed from her body. This time, though, we see Jason watching the decapitation and actually going to his mother’s body afterward. Fast-forward to present day, and some teens are camping out near Crystal Lake. They’re all either killed or presumed by us to be killed. “That was quick,” I thought, before realizing the title card hadn’t even yet been shown. Yes, we get a compact Friday the 13th film before the actual feature starts. How generous.

In the actual reboot part of the film, a group of teenagers head to a cabin by the aforementioned lake to party and hang out for the weekend. Meanwhile, a man named Clay (Jared Padalecki) is going around town looking for his sister, who was one of the victims in our short prologue scene. All he knows is that she’s gone missing; we figure there’s a good chance she’s dead, but we’re not entirely sure. We never did see her throat get sliced open.

Soon enough, people start dying. This is a slasher movie, and while we already got a full movie’s worth of deaths before the title card, we’re about to get a bunch more. Jason senses that people are walking around on what he deems to be his property. He can’t stand for that. One by one, the teenagers are picked off, and we basically watch the generic Friday the 13th storyline play out from there.

There are a couple of differences one will notice right off the bat when it comes to Friday the 13th. The first is that the filmmakers have actually attempted to make this new one scary. Perhaps that ideal was there for the first couple of films in the series, but they never even approached being frightening, in large part because many of them were awful. The successful movies of the franchise are the ones that looked upon the concept as a big joke. This version treats the premise seriously but actually builds and maintains a relatively strong sense of atmosphere, meaning the jump scares are more effective and the entirety of the final two acts are quite tense.

Part of the reason that works is because Jason has been slightly altered. He’s no longer the lumbering, brain-dead character he used to be. This one is smarter — he sets traps for the characters — and more agile. He runs! I mean, do you understand how important that is? That the character can actually chase you down a hall, and you can’t avoid death because you can walk relatively fast? It’s scarier this way, trust me.

Most of the staples from the Friday the 13th series remain. Teenagers, lots of drinking, a moderate amount of sex and nudity, and people getting stabbed with a big knife. There’s not a lot of innovation to the deaths in this film, but there are a lot of them and they’re far more violent than they were three decades ago. If you’re a gore lover, a couple of the kill sequences in this Friday the 13th will make you jump with joy. If you like to avoid copious amounts of blood, stay far away.

I suppose the real problem the film has is that, from a creative standpoint, it’s dead. Jason X might not have been good, but it was funny and took the series in a new direction. This one returns the franchise to its roots, I suppose, but is that really where we want to be? We’ve seen so many films set around Crystal Lake, and they’re all pretty much the same. We could have done something new with a reboot, but instead we find ourselves right back where we started. The original film wasn’t even any good. Important in retrospect for the slasher genre, sure, but not good.

I’m happy to report that the dialogue didn’t often attempt to make me cringe. For the most part, the teenagers talk at least somewhat realistically, and for the most part I could tell them apart. They generally separate into small groups, which means that one-on-one discussions can take place and you can also follow which character is which by looking at where they are and who they’re with. It’s a simple but effective technique.

Is Friday the 13th a great movie? No, but how good could a reboot of a generally bad ’80s slasher movie be? This is a competent movie which improves in most regards over the majority of the ten (solo) Friday the 13th films that came before it. It’s moderately scary, Jason is a more effective killer, you can tell everyone apart, there is plenty of gore, and the dialogue didn’t force me to hope the characters all got a knife to the chest. All in all, it’s not a bad attempt at rebooting the franchise.

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