12 Days of Friday, Day 12: Friday the 13th (2009)

Editor Alex Vo watches a Friday the 13th movie daily until the reboot.

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This analysis of Friday the 13th is generally spoiler-free. The same can't be guaranteed for my (or other's) remarks in the comments section.

Day Twelve: Friday the 13th

This is it. Last stop. Off the bus, everyone: Camp Crystal Lake, back where we started. We got rustic cabins and canoes, a few houses and barns, Crystal Lake itself, and a campfire to set up. Sit around, roast some marshmallows, and let's tell a few scary stories.

Less a reboot than a greatest hits remix of the first movies (I'd argue it goes all the way up to The Final Chapter as this features a besieged family house), Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th opens with five teens searching for rumored crops of wild marijuana and their unfortunate run-in with baghead Jason. (Sleeping bag kill alert!) Six weeks later, Clay Miller (CW-perennial Jared Padalecki) is combing the Crystal Lake area for his sister, who is among the missing. But apparently Clay's getting a little too close to camp for Jason's comfort and he begins preying on partying teenagers and hicks in the area.

The obvious question first: If you and your friends defy the Tomatometer (the horror!) and watch Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th , are y'all going to have a serviceably good time? Yes.

Next question: Is this the movie fans of classic Friday the 13th -- burned for years with lousy sequels, retcons, and general franchise ineptitude -- deserve? Yes.

But do they also deserve a little more? I think so. I think anybody does.
Friday the 13th hits the modern slasher minimum -- glossy production values, some sex, some decent kills, and a nice helping of gore. This is a competent, if totally uninspired, movie and describing it as such surprises me considering the director. Come on, Nispel remade the freakin' Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- a project that seemed doomed from the beginning, yet he delivered with a tense little flick. How hard could it be to bring back Jason? Well, frankly, it feels like Nispel is holding back. The movie could've been a little more gruesome. A little more shocking. A little more confident in its exploration of the Voorhees mythos. We get only flashes of brilliance, slivers of backstory here and there. Because this is a movie obviously with sequels in mind, there's no sense of completeness, and while I respect the movie's decision to keep the Jason character open, we've already been down this route; the series spiraled completely out of control because writers and directors were afraid to make any definitive statements on the character. This was your chance.
Though we don't get insight into the why or what of Jason, the movie does present a new angle on how he kills. Jason is portrayed now as a predator -- he sets up traps around the forest, uses people as bait, and proves his bow and arrow isn't there just for decoration. The movie's creepiest scenes come when we see Jason unguarded, walking around his encampment with bodies slung over his shoulder. His careful workmanship carrying corpses around is monstrous yet eerily humanizing.

Derek Mears plays Jason, mostly modeled after the Richard Brooker Jason of Part III: fast, agile, while approaching indestructibility. Mears makes the most of what he has to work with, able to communicate that there is thought process beneath the mask in addition to the wild aggression of an animal defending his territory, though Nispel is mostly satisfied in keeping Jason within slasher convention as the guy who shows up at the worst possible time. We don't see Jason shoot the bow and arrow. We just know the arrow came from him. And, at one point, Jason teleports off-screen onto a rooftop. I believe a man who has lived in the woods for 30 years can do that. But how great would it have been to see him actually do it?

As seen in Massacre, Nispel knows how to bring out the worst in small settings, so I was eager to see him get down and dirty when the dwindling number of survivors decide to hole up in the family house. Unfortunately, all Nispel does is let his characters hit levels of stupid that can only be described as stratospheric. Considering the movies I've seen the last two weeks, that's saying something.
The movie offers several hypotheses of what makes Jason tick, though none thoroughly explored. If he wants to be left alone, as one woman intones, why does he begin attacking people unprovoked? Is he a psychopath? He heals almost instantly -- is he human? Is he a supernatural being, resurrected by the death of his mother? He seems to be stockpiling the bodies. For what purpose? Considering the series tendency to go completely insane, it's understandable the filmmakers wanted to lay down a multitude of story options they can pick and choose for later sequels. But focusing on the now, such a tactic leaves one slightly muddled and dissatisfied.

Look, if you're out for pure, shut-your-brain-off thrills, you're generally going to get it. I don't think any of the deaths here will end up on future Best Kills list (a knife impaling a poor girl's skull, however, is rather cringe-worthy), but the movie as a whole is polished and efficient. But if you seek something new that you haven't seen from a Friday the 13th movie, or from just being a fan of horror, keep waiting. It's been years. What's a few more?

Friday the 13th Vital Stats:

  • Body Count: 13.
  • Survivors: 2. Sorta.
  • Number of Jason-approved weapons: 10. Bear trap, sleeping bag, machete, sharp pokey thing, bow and arrow, knife, screwdriver, axe, decorative deer antlers, tow truck.

My final rankings for the series:

  • Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
  • Freddy vs. Jason.
  • Friday the 13th (1980).
  • Friday the 13th Part III.
  • Friday the 13th (2009).
  • Friday the 13th Part 2
  • Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI.
  • Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
  • Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  • Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
  • Jason X

I'm steadfast in my belief in that The Final Chapter approaches brilliance. A marriage of technical elegance, fun characters, and gothic horror. I'm actually eager to watch this again sometime in the near future. Freddy vs Jason is great big bloody fun. I'll likely watch this again within a few years. The original is quaint and charming. Part III is infectious in its gleeful stupidity. This reboot and Part 2 are similar in that they're serviceable if somewhat generic. And the rest of the list starts with mild disinterest, gradually plummeting into total abhorrence.

I was eager to watch these movies to track the series' gradual evolution from murder-mystery to monster slasher. I had seen most of the movies and subsequently forgot everything about them, but what did remain was this smoldering fondness for the Jason character. The same fondness I think a lot of people have for him, even if they aren't self-confessed fans of the movie. Did we need a reboot? I think so -- the franchise had simply taken on too much water to continue on and we want our silent maniacs to live on forever. Not to become artifacts of an era. It's a relief to know that a man (or zombie or ghost of retribution or whatever he is) who has made a home in the woods still has relevance as an icon, not matter how much things change or how much the world moves away from him.

And that ends this marathon. Readers and commenters, thank you for following along.

Schedule of Fridays: