Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Freddy may have been treated right, at least for a time, by their respective horror franchises, but Jason Voorhees, the boy who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake and was then resurrected into a hockey-masked zombie of death after witnessing his homicidal mother’s beheading, always got the short end of the stick from his numerous Friday the 13th sagas. For an icon of hack-and-slash malevolence, Jason has been saddled with one lame slaughterfest after another (10 to be exact, unless you also count Freddy vs. Jason), which makes the decision to reboot the series by producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel—the team behind the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake—less an example of bottom line-driven greed than a reasonably inspired attempt to make over a seriously flawed property.
What in theory seems sound, however, in practice turns out to be depressingly average. Bay and Nispel’s new Friday proves both uninterested in its predecessors’ outlandish, corny tendencies and tenaciously faithful to its bedrock tropes, an approach that might have paid more chilling dividends were it able to wield its familiar devices and scenarios—and, crucially, prey off our own knowledge of them—to create anything resembling an unexpected scare. The formula, solid as it ever was, stays intact here: Following an intro in which campers near Crystal Lake are dismembered by a hulking brute, a group of near-identical hot-to-trot teens arrive in the same woods to hang at a preppy prick’s (Travis Van Winkle) swank family cabin, and—along with Clay (Jared Padalecki), in search of his missing sister—wind up on the run from seemingly unstoppable Jason. The killer’s moral code remains, with sexually active individuals and minorities walking about with veritable bull’s-eyes on their chests/necks/foreheads.
Only once breaking into a full trot, and limiting his use of teleportation, Jason does away with victims in his trademark stabbing, slashing, and burning manner (though disappointingly, he smushes no skulls and throws no corpses through windows to terrify the still-living). On top of a prologue that depicts the original Friday the 13th’s finale, Jason’s legacy is recounted around a campfire, bouncing boobs are copious, and the stalked regularly split up for inexplicable reasons. For genre devotees, subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the fiend’s prior outings abound, from a pre-credit sequence that strives to last longer than Part II’s record-length opening, to action set in a barn’s second floor, Padalecki’s loner and a chain-hanging finale, all of which recall elements of Part III.
Nispel’s slick visual style mirrors that of his Texas Chainsaw: a few scenes set at golden magic hour, murky blacks, rotting yellows and greens. The sight of a hottie being stabbed in the top of the head and momentarily pulled out of the water so we can get a final glimpse of her topless chest nails the slasher flick’s base commingling of gruesomeness, titillation, and cheesiness, and while the director keeps the pace methodical and menacing, Friday’s jolting scare tactics barely make a dent. By rigidly adhering to the series’s hackneyed mechanics, the filmmakers make clear they understand that part of what made the series entertaining to fans was its predictability. Yet whereas this new film offers the chance for exploiting audience’s awareness of such material’s structure (who dies when, and how), it doesn’t take advantage of that opportunity, as every successive set piece merely duplicates, rather than tweaks, the mundane rhythms and beats—slow-build to a fake-out scare, then a faux-startling reveal of Jason, then a quick chase, then a gory kill—that horror aficionados have long since memorized. More letdown than failure, Nispel’s is just another Friday the 13th, one that favors competent regurgitation over thrilling reinvention.