What Platinum Dunes Did Right and What Horror Fans Got Wrong
BY TJ FOWLER
I suppose talking about how fans were disappointed with Friday the 13th reboot at this point and juncture is a moot point in some regard but I am actually here to write about the re-boot and how it compares to the first four original films and how I feel some of the criticism pointed at this film from horror fans I think were somewhat unfair and frankly wrong. And this is coming from someone who also had some criticisms for this film when it released, so I am lumping myself in here potentially as well. Also with news of a Friday the 13th TV series in the works and how Jason is supposed to be more grounded in terms of realism, I felt it was a good time to perhaps write up some thoughts on these films.
I just recently rewatched the first four films again after probably 20+ years and also the reboot just the other day so I could have a fresh take on all of them and be able to write, what I hope is a good comparison. The objective of the reboot was to make a more contemporary film that was a conglomeration of the first four films while maybe also tying in some more reasonable ideas about how some of things that happened in the first films that didn’t make sense (plot/logic holes) occurred.
Let’s first look at how the reboot tied all four films into one and if it was successful or not in terms of getting the story right. So the reboot opens with what is basically the end of what part one was. The beheading of Jason’s mom, while Jason is looking on from the bushes in 1980. This part of boy Jason watching was not in the original but speculated about in Part 2. We then have a cold open of several youngsters in present day, heading out into the back country around Crystal Lake to look for a stash of wild growing weed to sell. As they settle in for the night they talk about what at this point is an Urban Legend of the Camp Crystal Lake Murders and Jason. A couple of campers head off and find the old abandoned camp ground, again the same setting of part 2 as it took place at another part of the lake five years after the first movie, and begin to investigate while a couple others begin fucking in their tent while another wonders off in the woods to find the dope.
This is where Jason makes his appearance by systematically starting to kill the campers. The big thing to note here is Jason has a the sack head mask just like from Part 2 and he plays a bit of baiting a camper into trying to help his girlfriend that leads to him stepping into an animal trap. Also it shows Jason being able to be in a couple of locations in a short amount of time…just like in the originals but we will get to that later.
So after Jason gets rid of the trespassers we have the real opening of the movie that takes place six weeks later and has a character named Clay looking for his missing sister who was one of the campers in the cold opening. Again this is taken from Part 4 (The Final Chapter), who had a character named Rob who was actually looking for Jason (or believed that Jason was alive and not drowned) who had killed his sister from part 2…which in that time line was only a few days before and logically didn’t fit in as well as it did in this movie.
Clay is harassed by the local sheriff who tells him to leave, brushed off by the locals who allude to that they know someone is out in the woods and people who disappear, disappear because they go walking in places they don’t belong and ultimately Clay gets entangled with another group of young partiers who is led by an Alpha Male Douchebag. These characters and Clay are ultimately the ones the movie centers on other than Jason.
Ok, so as the movie plays on we see Jason lose his sack mask and find the iconic hockey mask, this was mask was also found in Part 3. Jason also goes about doing what Jason does and that is kill people who get a little too close for his liking, the walking in places they don’t belong. Though there is a bit of a logic gap in this I will get to later as well. Also Jason has taken Clay’s sister hostage because she looks like his dead mother.
So let’s review so far on how well the reboot does in lining things up with the original first 4 films. I think in terms of getting the backbone of the story right, I feel Platinum Dunes hit it on the head without doing a direct copy of everything we see in those original films. I also felt they did well with casting and getting solid actors who come off as believable and while some are stereotypical, they act their parts really well. This is more than I can say for some of the other Friday the 13th films overall which had some REALLY poor acting. Out of the first four films part 3 had the worst but later installments were not filled with great actors at all. The reboot by far has actors that outshine all the other films in the entire franchise with the exception of possibly the Final Chapter which had some really good actors in it for the time. Again, I am not bashing the acting in the original movies too much, except part 3, as the way people acted in different decades differ from modern times. Also the acting in part 2 was very well done especially by the lead girl.
To be fair I didn’t hear too many complaints on the actors for the reboot but I am just giving my opinion that I think Platinum Dunes, despite how much people hate them sometimes, can do a good job when casting their actors.
Now let’s get into the criticisms that many horror fans seemed to raise hell about in the film. One of the first ones I heard, that I personally thought was ridiculous, was the one where in the TV spots fans saw Jason sharpening his machete on a stone wheel saying Jason wouldn’t do things like this. These criticisms quickly went into him using a bow and arrow (Hell he used throwing knives in Part 6 and he was a zombie then!) and also having underground tunnels (which logically explains how Jason is able to be in several locations faster than seems possible, and is a neat way to explain the ‘Jason Teleport’) were stupid and the film makers didn’t know how Jason worked. They also criticized the fact he took a hostage. I think what horror fans have forgotten is that in the original four films, Jason is still basically a mortal and still had some form of mortal consciousness in terms of survival. Again, if you look at Part 2, Jason lived in a shack in the middle of the woods that clearly showed he had to eat, which would justify his using of the bow in the reboot, he also had a shitter in Part 2, which conveys he had to do some pretty basic human functions like eat and shit. At this point in time he was very much a mortal. A mortal perhaps with mental handicaps and violence issues in some ways but with super strength like some mentally handicap people are known to have. Also I think it justifies the use of the tunnels to help him stay hidden and even the sharpening of his machete is justified at this point at this point in time as he is almost like a hermit living off the grid and surviving by hunting and eating animals.
Is it possible for the Jason in the original films from Part 2-4 to have had some sort of supernatural ability? Sure in some minor degree…perhaps the ability to survive lethal wounds and become stronger after he suffers them. Maybe. Kind of like a Super Saiyan Slasher. But still he was grounded to the mortal realm more than not.
Also, as for taking a hostage, this somewhat ties into Part 2 where the girl who survived impersonated Jason’s mother, which he fell for and was even submissive to. Again, I think him taking a hostage of a girl who looked like his mother is completely plausible.
So in terms of getting the spirit of the story of the original four films right…I honestly feel Platinum Dunes nailed it on the head while not doing a carbon copy of those films while drawing mostly from Part 2 and The Final Chapter (Part 4)
Am I saying the reboot doesn’t have faults? Absolutely not and I will get into what I feel ultimately held the movie back but I think what horror fans were giving as to reasons they thought the reboot was shit were incorrect and honestly, uneducated. Jason has not always been the undead killing machine we see in later installments.
So what do I personally find wrong in the reboot. To me the one or two things a Friday the 13th has to get right even if everything else falls apart in the film, is getting the right person to play Jason and being able to convey the correct body language and the second is how the kills are executed. The first leads to the success of the second. So let’s talk about the casting of Jason.
Derek Mears was cast as Jason. I personally think in and of itself this was a great choice…so again the casting of Jason was spot on. Derek is a big, lean mother fucker and fits the role perfectly. As we all know however, Jason doesn’t speak. So when an actor portrays Jason it has to come down to the body language of how the actor conveys the attitude of a killer like Jason. Here is one of the areas I feel the movie falters a bit and I somewhat blame the director Marcus Nispel in this area and not Mears. The director is the one who is supposed to have an eye for how a character looks on screen.
Now I still defend Mears as Jason, while others have voiced displeasure. Here is why I think Mears can make a good Jason with proper direction. In the reboot, there is a scene where Jason is in the tool shed and trying to kill the kid who came to check on his now dead friend. The kid gets a shot in on Jason with a fire poker and inflicts a leg wound on Jason. This is the one scene in the film where I thought Mears got the body language 100% correct. After he suffered the wound and began pursuing the kid, he got up and violently hit the shelf next to him like he was pissed he got hurt and began stalking that kid with a fucking purpose. To me that looked like legitimate anger and a person out to wreak havoc. You could just sense the malice emanating from Mears in that scene.
In most of the reboot however Jason/Mears didn’t convey this kind of body language to this degree. An example I can draw from the original movies that defines good body language is in The Final Chapter where Jason busts through a door like a fucking wrecking ball and is able to quickly stop, turn and prepares for his next move. Also, if I am permitted to cheat a bit and draw from the later films, in Part 6: Jason Lives where the RV crashes on its side and Jason busts open the door on the side and stands on the crashed RV like some kind conquering machine of death. THAT is bad ass body language. These kind of things are subtle but have a big impact visually and subconsciously.
The body language also bleeds over to the kills which are the meat of a Friday the 13th film. I feel for a killer like Jason the kills need to be quick, visceral and fluid. And also creative. I feel Jason is a being that if you get in grabbing range of him that the deaths should be brutal, graphic and fast and when finished he discards the victim like a rag doll piece of garbage to be forgotten. I will cheat again here and pull an example from Jason Lives (Part 6) as to what I am trying to describe. The kill scene where Jason busts into the cabin to kill the counselor and blood sprays on the window right before he throws her body through the window where he then QUICKLY rushes and grabs her corpse that is hanging halfway out the window and drags her back in. That is the kind of quick, efficient, fast actions the kills should have overall.
However, in the reboot many of the kills lacked, in my opinion, creativity overall and seemed dull and slow. While I found some fault in the originals, like Final Chapter, that some of the kills were not shown for long enough on screen, for example the head crush scene in the shower, but for 1984 it left a lasting impression. In the reboot we see some kills that are prolonged but don’t really do anything. The scene that comes to mind here is the one when the douche bag kid is killed at the tow truck. Jason backstabs the guy and he just grabs the machete and tries to make it cut deeper…or something. Either way it goes on for a bit too long and doesn’t really do anything then finally Jason impales the guy on the tow truck lift. This could have been done much faster and better.
I feel the reboot had opportunity to make some of the kills it had to be really memorable such as the girl trying to hide under the boat dock when she takes the machete in the skull. Her facial expression was fantastic there and her getting lifted out of the water to get the machete dislodged from her skull was really kind of scary. It was fast and quick…though I felt there was still something missing from that kill. Maybe actually seeing Jason’s body movement while thrusting the machete into her skull or the girl giving a death gurgle. The kill move was fast but maybe the life leaving the girl’s body could have been just a bit slower.
To me, the body language of Jason and the execution of the kills are what brought this movie down not the silly criticisms of Jason using a bow or sharpening his machete. Also I am not even faulting Mears who played Jason for this but more the direction. I would love to see Mears get another crack at Jason as I feel he can truly make that character his own.
The reboot has some other issues but they aren’t any more glaring than some of the ones in the original films, probably less so. Such as the kids on the boat who Jason shoots with the arrow and then kills the other who is hiding under the boat dock. I am not sure but the lake seems a pretty open place where obviously other people live around that Jason has left alone, why he went after them is kind of mystery but one I can kind of get around and let go.
Also the ending…was completely awful and unnecessary.
While I do agree the reboot has, issues I feel sometimes we as a horror community have bigger ones and are our own worst enemy and to be perfectly honest, I feel a lot of us are not as smart as we like to think we are about horror. We as a community easily fall into a sheep mentality if we hear that we shouldn’t like certain types of things in horror. I think we all need to do ourselves a favor and be able to take a step back and look objectively at why a horror movie may be good/bad and not because a select few who are ‘experts’ say we shouldn’t like a movie based on it being a reboot or if Jason sharpens his knives.
I think Platinum Dunes did a lot of things right with the reboot in terms of gelling the original four films into one story, getting a good capable cast and making the movie look like the best one in the franchise. But I feel they dropped the ball on the two most critical aspects of the film and that is the creativity of the kills, how they were edited and getting the body language of Jason right.
Now in light that the current Friday the 13th TV show will focus on a more realistic and grounded Jason I have already seen some horror fans moaning and complaining that this isn’t the Jason they know. Well, honestly you might not know Jason or Friday the 13th as well as you think.
Feel free to tell me how wrong I am or even better I would like to discuss this in more detail…so feel free to leave comments or contact me!