I consider the Michael Bay-produced and Marcus Nispel-directed 2003 remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a comprehensive abomination (I wrote about it here over a decade ago; here I have it ranked as the 14th worst movie I've ever seen). So it is with some pleasant surprise that I consider that same team's reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise an acceptably mediocre return to basics, for the most part.
As yet two more groups of randy teens attempt to party adjacent to Camp Crystal Lake, most of them meet a grisly fate at the hands of hulking, silent misanthrope Jason Voorhees. As it fits into the Friday canon, the 2009 edition of Friday the 13th is somewhat a remake of Friday the 13th Part 2, with its recreated flashbacks of Jason witnessing the death of his mother and living in a ramshackle structure, and with a touch of Friday the 13th Part 3 as he discovers and dons his iconic hockey mask.
Nispel mostly — but not completely — dispels the aggressive stylism that sucked the life out of his Chainsaw desecration and gets better-than-average performances from an appealing cast of familiar TV faces (Amanda Righetti, from The O.C., former Disney child star Danielle Panabaker, Jared Padalecki from Supernatural, Ryan Hansen from Party Down, etc.).
This Friday the 13th still suffers, unlike the earliest entrants in the series, from Syd Field-syndrome, manufacturing too many forced interpersonal conflicts between characters for disposable macro-drama, and screenwriters Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who also penned the lively Freddy vs. Jason, turn Jason into too much of a savant — he engineers semi-complex traps, has an impressive makeshift headquarters, and is also, apparently, a pot farmer — whereas most spectre-of-death slasher characters tend to work best with the least backstory, personality and other context-building. Some of these writing issues are surely responding to what I consider an unwelcome development in slasher franchises: a creeping over-identification with what should be unequivocal villains. This impulse to humanize and even glorify what used to be metaphors for death requires a commensurate devaluing of the killer's more-human victims, including a trend to portray some characters as so despicable as to arguably deserve their gory deaths. Whether it's a conscious choice or lazy by-template writing, it's a distant step down from the now-refreshing naturalism and general good-naturedness of the camp counselors from the franchise's first few installments.
Taken as just another slasher movie, Friday the 13th does its job well enough. There is a nice, scrappy energy to its action scenes, and some visceral, bracing gore. Righetti is a worthy addition to the pantheon of "final girls." This Friday the 13th recycles what it should with efficiency, if not distinction.