Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Galner) watch helplessly as their friends begin to die inexplicably violent deaths in their sleep. Fighting to stay awake (in Quentin's case, with the aid of drugs), the two investigate their ties to each other and to the clawed madman known as Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) and uncover a dark secret from their childhood that had been buried for the past decade. But will knowing the truth help prevent them from becoming Freddy's next victims?
The End Result
Despite ample opportunity to branch out in fresh new directions, this ends up being the most slavish of production company Platinum Dunes' myriad of 21st century horror remakes (Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher). Scene after scene "pays homage" to the 1984 original by merely mirroring its iconic imagery with no eye for innovation or originality.
In the past, one of the great aspects of the Elm Street films was that the "dreamworld" setting opened up endless possibilities for warped visuals and unfettered imagination, but the remake rarely takes advantage of that freedom, seemingly afraid that any extreme deviation from the original film would alienate its fan base. Instead, the pandering imagery merely adds fuel to the fire of those who claim that remakes are less about artistry than about cashing in on the film's name.
The fleeting moments of innovation that (meekly) attempt to expand the Elm Street universe come less from the visuals and action sequences than from the overall plot, which delves into the effects of sleep deprivation -- and in one of the few welcome story tweaks, introduces the phenomenon of "waking dreams." The remake is actually more successful than the original at portraying the desperation felt by the teens struggling in vain to stay awake for days, knowing that it's only a matter of time before they fall asleep or slip into a coma ("permanent sleep").
Beyond that, though, attempts to enhance the storyline prove fruitless, from the name changes (Why bother changing Nancy's last name to Holbrook?) to the questioning of Freddy's guilt to his jumbled motivation for toying with Nancy rather than just killing her. In the end, it plays like a predictable, been-there-done-that bore that peppers viewers with countless mini dreams just to keep us awake.
Just as the process of remaking a legendary movie like A Nightmare on Elm Street is an uphill battle, so is stepping into the shoes of iconic villain Freddy Krueger. Oscar winner Jackie Earl Haley (who actually auditioned unsuccessfully for a role in the original, while his friend, who was there just to keep him company, was cast -- some guy by the name of Johnny Depp) was the surprise choice, and while he has the acting chops to pull it off, his skills don't come through on screen.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare any better. While they're certainly competent, newcomer Mara epitomizes the actors' forgettable, genre-standard performances -- granted, they're at the mercy of flat characterizations from the script.
Making his feature film debut, veteran music video director Samuel Bayer (Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit") helps keep the movie visually interesting despite the recycled content. He channels the grimy edge of the Wes Craven original that was lacking from the last few self-parodying Elm Street films, but he doesn't have enough to work with in a remake that can't overcome comparisons to the much superior original and can't do enough to justify its own existence.