17 May 2010


As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Who knew a comedy about suicide bombers could actually be sweet and rather poignant? Some still don't know it, hence the usual brigade out to slap about Four Lions for being morally reprehensible in the like. Of course they've completely overlooked the latest Michael Bay mandated remake monstrosity A Nightmare on Elm Street in the process. Have no fear (not a likely proposition in the latter), I will be covering both.

So, there's a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. You know the story, or at least what remains of it here- some teens have the same dreams as each other, and dying in dreams means dying in reality. Worse luck for them, as a vengeful gribbly called Freddy Krueger is out and about. There's an effort to install some new plot twists here, from the fairly interesting idea of micro-naps brought on by intense sleep deprivation, to the heinous twist on Freddie's origins that makes for yet another cynically stupid horror remake with Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes footing the bill.

This is the first feature film by music video director Samuel Bayer, a name which in this context sounds like a pseudonym for the cinematic Voldemort himself, but I'm assured he only produced it. So Bayer had this to say after his film got the moderately successful US opening weekend he needed to carry on in the business.

"Look, I’m gonna catch a lot of heat for this, but some of these fans on the web should just get up, stretch, breathe, go outside and get some fresh air, maybe get a girlfriend and just get a life. They should see the movie and make up their own minds.”

Essentially, he says fuck you very much for paying to see my shit movie. OK, so pre-release, the film wasn't exactly endearing itself to me, and even though I eventually saw it without paying, I realised I should actually see it because he made one good point. People should be able to make up their own minds.

One scene in this sums up my reaction- remember the quicksand stairs from the 1984 Wes Craven original? That scene is replicated on a landing here, which gives the effect of our miserable young heroine wading through shit. That scene is the distilled essence of 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street, for two key reasons.

1. It's part of a greatest hits package of the original film, replicating memorable scenes with a massively dulled effect.
2. Watching the film is like wading through shit.

It is not only unspeakably awful, but it's boring too. It actually lends itself to awful rhetoric from critics, because it's so easy to feel sleepy while watching it. Guessing that's why they changed the tagline from "Don't Fall Asleep" to "Never Sleep Again" fairly late in the marketing campaign. Not that it heightens the terror even one jot, it's just incredibly boring. The sound design is as ever catered towards a quick jump scare, but still serves as an alarm clock for anyone who's drifting off from the sheer dullness of the proceedings.

Take a moment's silence for Jackie Earle Haley, who really deserved better than this. He's a good choice to play Freddy and he's clearly a fan of the character, but he has nothing to do here. And worse, he has to deal with the terrible swap-out they do on Freddy's origins. Apparently a child murderer wasn't bad enough, so they make him a paedophile instead, something that Haley is forced to trot out by leering over our growed-up lead emos before he eviscerates them. With last year's Friday the 13th, that's two horror remakes in a row from the Arch Bay-stard that have distilled any threat and menace in a monster down to sex. So sex is sexy. Monsters are not. Are you scared yet?

Were it not my duty to entertain in some way as I expect you to read through all this, I could sum up this remake succinctly. A Nightmare on Elm Street is bad. I don't hold the original up as the untouchable horror classic that others have, but this is really just eye-wateringly and arse-clenchingly bad. You could expect no more or less from Platinum Dunes, but Bayer takes an immutably scary idea in the form of Freddy Krueger and rehashes it without innovation or even any real horror. The script operates in syllogism and the acting is, with Jackie Earle Haley excepted, fucking awful. You will not care for these characters, you care only for when this 90 minute shitfest will stop dragging and you can go and watch something else instead.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Altogether less damaging and more wholesome is Four Lions, which comes into selected cinemas after a troubled journey. Writer and director Chris Morris well-known for courting controversy through the really quite brilliant Channel 4 series Brass Eye, and thus it's taken a while to get the funding for this one. It's all about a motley crew of suicide bombers, determined to make an indelible mark on a culture that they despise. Or at least two of them are, the other two being slightly less aware of what they're letting themselves in for. With division in the ranks, they look for a target that will put them down in history on their way to the Rubber Dinghy Rapids they expect in paradise.

I don't really think this film is wrong or bad, obviously. Come on, it's a film where the key conflict in the film occurs over a Facebook application starring animated puffins. It was never going to do any real damage. Thus the anticipated harsh reaction from the British Muslim community doesn't seem to have materialised.

Instead, there have been calls to ban the film from the families of 7/7 victims. Understandably, a film that makes this topic funny will be a sore point, but with deepest sympathies, the solution is just not to watch it if it may be upsetting. For anyone else, there's actually a rather bittersweet undercurrent to the satire, but Morris never shies away from making some incisive gags about extremism.

Our leonine quartet are too stupid to actually orchestrate the large scale panic they misguidedly hope for, making the film somewhat poignant. These four are still real people- two of whom haven't quite grasped that the end result of their mission will involve their deaths and another of whom has a loving family. If you were made to root for terrorists, it'd be obscene, but Morris quite delicately sends up one of the most terrible facts of modern religion without ever mocking human tragedy.

Mel Brooks once said that he mocked Hitler in The Producers because fear loses its power if you're able to laugh at it. While Morris hasn't gone down that road, he actually goes some way towards a character study of suicide bombers rather than an outright farce. It does err closer to farce than to the satire of Morris' earlier works, and at times that's jarring with the more human element. Our anti-heroes are not traditional caricatures.

I wouldn't say it's not the kind of comedy you laugh at, because there are a lot of fantastic jokes in Four Lions. It was just altogether different from the film I expected, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's obviously been meticulously researched and I don't believe there's anything malicious about it at all. Morris fans may be surprised, but there's still much to admire about this uproarious yet tactful comedy.

Four Lions is now playing in selected cinemas- seek it out!
If you have seen A Nightmare on Elm Street and Four Lions and want to comment on the films or my reviews, or simply need help with your strong urge to strap a bomb to yourself and find the Platinum Dunes HQ, why not comment below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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