Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
It has taken ten years to get this long-in-development project before
the cameras, but the wait, bound to surprise many, has been well worth
it. Directed with visual energy and narrative know-how by Ronny Yu
(1998's "Bride of Chucky"), "Freddy Vs. Jason" is as unexpectedly
entertaining and well-made as any other film this summer. Pitting
the horribly burned, razor-clawed dream stalker Freddy Krueger (Robert
Englund) against the unstoppable, hockey-masked psychopath Jason Voorhees
(Ken Kirzinger) may sound like a trashily novel idea, but it could
have easily turned into a laughable, cheesy disaster. Worse yet, it
could have been snore-inducing (see 2002's "Jason X"). What no one
may be prepared for, then, is just how inventive and expertly designed
the finished project is.
Having been long-since forgotten by the new children of his old stomping
ground, Elm Street, Freddy Krueger's power over his potential victims'
dreams has been rendered impotent. Having laid dormant for far too
long, he enlists the aid of deceased psychopath Jason Voorhees to
rise from the dead and reinject fear into Elm Street. By doing this,
Freddy hopes to regain his own reputation and, thus, his power to
kill teenagers in their dreams. Unfortunately, when Jason carries
out his murderous job with more aplomb than expected, Freddy quickly
grows fed up with Jason hogging the spotlight, and vows to stop Jason
himself. Caught in the middle of Freddy and Jason's escalating war
are several unlucky victims-to-be, who turn out to be more intelligent
and savvy than the teenage norm in slasher flicks. They include the
virginal Lori (Monica Keena), old boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter), the
look-obsessed Kia (Kelly Rowland), and troubled wild girl Gibb (Katharine Isabelle).
The makers of "Freddy Vs. Jason," including director Ronny Yu and
first-time screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, give long-time
fans of both the "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" series'
exactly what they have been waiting for, and then go one step further.
The plot is cleverly constructed and imaginative, successfully interweaving
plot threads from both sagas; the lead core of teen characters are
more realistic and developed than usual, especially by the standards
of the low-grade, one-note "Friday the 13th" pictures; and the pace
never lags for a second.
Best of all, Freddy Kruegerwho started as a truly frightening figure
before being turned into a stand-up comedian in later installmentsis
as threatening as he has been since 1984's original "A Nightmare on
Elm Street." While he does still drop a few one-liners, they are actually
worth laughing about rather than eyeroll-inducing. Meanwhile, the
past of Jason Voorhees, which has rarely gone much beyond the fact
that he is a silent stalker with a machete, is explored more in-depth
than ever before, making him into a more palpable and troubled villain.
Following a nine-year hiatus, Robert Englund slips back into the showy
part of Freddy Krueger like a well-worn glove, only with an even nastier
undercurrent. It helps that his burn make-up and costume design, including
new demonic contact lenses, are first-rate. Taking over for Jason
regular Kane Hodder, Ken Kirzinger makes Jason his own while neve
r straying far from how the titular villain usually acts.
Director Ronny Yu delights in playing with the mythology of both characters,
while at the same time taking advantage of a film that includes a
real-life killer and one that lurks in people's dreams. In one particularly
ingenious and horrific sequence, a character passes out at a rave
after having too much to drink. Just as she is about to be killed
by Freddy in her dream, she is impaled along with her unbeknownst
date rapist by Jason. Moralistic and more sexually charged than the
norm, the film also has the auspiciousness to explore Freddy's own
sexual hang-ups, implying that his razor-knifed gloves are compensation for a small penis.
As the in-danger teens, who actually use their brains while thinking
of a way to pit Freddy against Jason, Monica Keena (2002's "Orange
County") and Katharine Isabelle (2002's "Insomnia") stand out the
most. As the distressed Lori, Keena refreshingly plays the grim realities
of the situation she is in rather than the usual movie-style version
of coping with the loss of her friends. As such, she cries for much
of the film as she grieves (instead of just forgetting her dead friends
seconds after they bite the dust), even as she finds the strength
inside of her to defeat both monsters. As Gibb, the very talented
Isabelle refuses to be just another tree stump on Jason and Freddy's
chopping block, injecting real emotion and truth into her every moment.
In lesser hands, this supporting part would be nothing special, but
Isabelle turns Gibb into someone the viewer can identify with. Additionally,
Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland brings real spunk to her role
of Kia; all things considered, she actually outperforms fellow band
member Beyonce Knowles' debut role in 2002's "Austin Powers in Goldmember."
With atmospheric cinematography by Fred Murphy (2002's "The Mothman
Prophecies"), who often stylishly paints his images with indelible
red and green filters, "Freddy Vs. Jason" is a B-movie that looks
more like an A-list picture. When the battle between Freddy and Jason
finally gets off and running in the last half-hour (taking place first
in Jason's boiler room nightmare, and then in the real world at Camp
Crystal Lake), it is a thrilling, crowd-pleasing tour de force that
comes up with a smart, unpredictable way to please both those rooting
for Jason, and those for Freddy.
Believe it or not, "Freddy Vs. Jason" is better than any of the other
ten "Friday the 13th" movies, and places in the upper half of the
previous seven-parted "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. Its avoidance
of audience condescensi on, lack of pretentiousness, and return to
what made horror fans hold a fondness for both series' in the first
place makes "Freddy Vs. Jason" a far-better-than-expected, late summer
thrill ride. It may not be very scary, but it sure is loads of fun.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman