Is it a tragedy when boring people die? Intentionally or not, that's the most pressing question raised by this week's remake of the 1980s teen-horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes Craven's genre-defining original, about a burn-laced pedophile named Freddy Krueger who tortured troubled teens in their dreams, spawned a decade's worth of sequels and launched the career of Johnny Depp with a gargantuan bedroom blood geyser.
With three decades' worth of silver-screen suburban slasher flicks behind us, it's easy to forget how truly, delightfully bizarre Craven's movie was. A mesmerizing mix of low-budget schlock and imaginatively gory shocks, it wasn't a good movie, exactly, but it was a stirring piece of pop-culture transgression—in no small part because of the obvious and more-than-slightly crazed pleasure it took in mangling its assortment of oblivious, bedroom-community brats. And with its scar-faced spectral dream-villain, it offered a crudely effective psychological manifestation of adolescent anxieties about self and subconscious: When you're 15, who knows what evils lurk in your mind?
Sadly, the remake has little of the original's freaky, low-fi surrealism. Sure, it's fun to hear Jackie Earle Haley spew quips in a death metal drawl (after explaining to one gutted youth that the brain keeps going for seven minutes after the heart stops, he declares, "We've still got six minutes to flay"). But for the most part, it merely offers a dull recitation of generic teen-horror rituals: music-video moodiness, bloody-but-dull kills, and a cast of dim, expressionless teens who constantly look as if they're auditioning for jobs as department-store catalog models. Each is a vacant placeholder for a contemporary suburban high-school type—the jock, the goth, the emo-snert, the bland bombshell (in a pair of Uggz, natch), and the nice girl with the troubled past.
Ideally, each would be an archetype, though even a plucky stock character would do. Instead, every one of them is a black hole of personality; at one point, one of the characters asks another if he wants to talk. They both stare blankly for a moment, and then:
"What do you want to talk about?"
"I don't know. What's your favorite color?"
The conversation dies there, pathetically, as if the screenwriter, perhaps fully aware of the fact that these might be the most boring humans in cinematic history, simply gave up, possibly to take a nap.
Which may be your inclination as well (it was certainly mine). The essential blankness of the doe-eyed dopes under attack means it's no fun to watch them live or die; instead of terror, it provokes yawns. For a movie about tortured teens trying to stay awake, Nightmare does just about everything it can to put everyone in the audience to sleep.