Wes Craven’s 1984 horror film A Nightmare On Elm Street owes at least part of its success to reasons evident in the title. For his setting, Craven didn’t use some cobwebbed old house or fog-drenched Eastern European village but, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, a bucolic suburban anywhere, the sort of prosperous picket-fence neighborhood previous generations had strived hard to reach. But Elm Street had a troubled past that included child murders, vigilante justice, and, in Freddy Krueger, a dream-haunting bogeyman determined to shed some teenage blood to make sure everyone knew about it. Craven’s film has its creaky moments, but the powerful notion of a whole generation dying in a ruined All-American paradise thanks to the sins of their parents made them easy to ignore. So too did Craven’s inventive, low-budget surrealism and Robert Englund’s portrayal of Krueger, a casually relentless undead maniac driven by a perverse sense of justice.
Sadly, the above paragraph could double as a catalog of what’s missing from this remake, another slick updating of a horror classic from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes imprint, the production company responsible for 21st century remakes of Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and others. Director Samuel Bayer, a veteran commercial and music video director responsible for Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit Video” back when the original Nightmare series was still a going concern, brings a slick visual sense but not a hint of vision. The film cops virtually every memorable image from the original, but loses the depth that gave them power and the sense of place that grounded them. And while, after Little Children, this officially confirms Jackie Earle Haley as the go-to actor to play child molesters, his Krueger simply isn’t that threatening, more a fidgety runt than the stuff of cold sweat-inducing bad dreams.
Bayer keeps repeating the image of teenage characters—some, like lead Rooney Mara, who look almost old enough to have teen kids of their own—waking up screaming as if trying to convince the audience they were watching a scarier movie than they are. No matter how often the film returns to the same foreboding boiler room or how much the sound design pushes the sound of flesh getting cut—which for some reason sounds like metal on metal—there’s little to be frightened of here. (Unless, of course, you count the creepy way Bayer tries to wring gross-out thrills from images of child molestation.) Some recurring dreams get less powerful with repetition.