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MOVIE REVIEW

Friday the 13th

This 'Friday the 13th' redux is just a hack

Derek Mears as Jason in the new ''Friday the 13th.'' Derek Mears as Jason in the new ''Friday the 13th.''
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / February 13, 2009
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'Friday the 13th" as restaged for 2009 connects to this time and place only tangentially. The kids play beer pong. They go speed-boating. They wear "Star Wars" T-shirts, giant cargo shorts, and flip-flops, and go foraging for weed. They still urinate alone in the forest and have loud sex in a tent. If they know they're a cliche, they're helpless to stop acting like one. But we know, which makes it hard to freak out over their safety.

Our future victims do seem to know the myth of Crystal Lake, where in 1980 the mother of a boy who drowned massacres a group of camp counselors. In countless subsequent sequels, the son would become immortalized as Jason Voorhees, the serial killer in a goalie's mask who by the time of 1989's "Jason Takes Manhattan," had devolved into a summer-camp camp star.

Still, these new kids are obliged to endanger themselves for us. But when a 6-foot-5, 260-pound machete-wielding man can get close enough to breathe on you, it's more hilarious than terrifying. Everyone's hearing appears to have vanished along with their cellphone reception. If Jason could talk, his one line would be: "Can you hear me now?"

The most interesting innovation in this new "Friday the 13th" is the possibility that the slasher film could pass for a reality-television show. Through reductive editing, generic people become interchangeable types without ever approaching actual personhood. It's "The Hills," "Bromance," "The Real World," and "Rock of Love" with a body count. Indeed, "Friday the 13th" gives us two seasons of this show. Once Jason hacks his way through one group of stupid, horny, good-looking kids, he gets a fresh batch a scene later - this time with two tokens of color and a moody white hero looking for the sister who vanished in batch one. (The camera enjoys lingering on the vein in his biceps as much it does all the jiggling C-cups.)

The movie might have worked if it winked more - or if it played things completely straight. Director Marcus Nispel also coughed up a 2003 version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" that seemed to miss what was so frightening about the original of that film, too: an atmosphere of pervasive dread. For all the amateurishness of the original "Friday the 13th," there was also more than a little psycho-social subtext. It was the rare slasher film where a woman, deranged as she was, slayed for a reason. She was a reverse Norman Bates - mother killing for son.

Some recent filmmakers have gamely outfitted their movies with topical girding that gives the mayhem and gruesomeness somewhere to go and someplace you'd want to follow. "28 Days Later" and its sequel, "The Signal," "The Descent," even the appalling "Frontier(s)" are recent examples of horror that had a scrap of wit and ambition. The films respected their genre even as they challenged its limits.

All Nispel does is repackage what's been hot recently in horror. The slayings here are indistinguishable from the atrocities of "Saw" and "Hostel." His psychological scars lasered away, Jason now kills for sport. Like the filmmakers, our bogeyman is merely a copycat hack. And for those of you watching the box office, he continues to serve a far grimmer end: He's still just an ATM.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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