[13 February 2009]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Watching a beautiful blond girl writhe and sigh with a bottle of liquor pressed to her lips, Chewie (Aaron Yoo) sighs. Down at the other end of the sofa, Nolan (Arlen Escarpeta) espies his friend’s yearning. While Chewie fantasizes about coming back in another life as a button the dancing girl’s short shorts, Lawrence tells him to go for it, even hands him a flaming shot glass as an offering for the golden goddess. For a moment, Bree (Julianna Guill) deigns to flirt with her supplicant, ensuring her place as Slutty Girl About to Die. But Chewie knows this teeny moment is the end of it. He knows his place in this determinedly un-new Friday the 13th: Asian Nerd About to Die.
Poor Chewie. He doesn’t titillate, dance provocatively, pull off his shirt to show supple flesh, seduce the rich frat boy or go water skiing. Instead, he serves the more pedestrian purpose of gross-out relief, slurping beer from his own filthy sneaker and stumbling into the killer Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) out in the tool shed. This after Chewie has downed way too many shots and so doesn’t grasp the gravity of the encounter. He nods amiably at the monster, then proffers a hockey stick he’s found in the shed: “It really completes your outfit,” he grins.
The joke sets up Chewie for his bloody end, as it is inevitably lost on the humorless Jason. It also reminds you of why movies like this include characters like Chewie—clever, cute, and kind, genuinely naïve and usually high, but not stupid. With protagonists generally as lug-headed and mechanical as their executioner (even if more tanned, pretty, and injudicious), the secondary players provide much-needed emotional and moral respite. They point out the silliness of the proceedings, characterizations, and costumes, providing a position outside the dire tête-à-tête between the major players so that viewers can feel righteously smart and superior, aware of the machinations but not invested in them.
Chewie’s delivery to these expectations helps you feel removed from his less charming compatriots, primarily his competitor for Bree’s attentions, Trent (Travis Van Winkle). Articulating his secondary place here, Chewie makes clear his actual function: along with Lawrence, he suggests that the white-on-white leads are open-minded, as they bring along their Friends of Color to die with them out in the woods. Trent is hateful from jump, rich and reckless regarding his plucky, smarter-than-he-is girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), uptight about the expensive furnishings in his dad’s Crystal Lake getaway home and trying too hard to dominate the intrepid interloper, Clay (Jared Padalecki). When he blames Chewie for breaking some family heirloom and sends him outside to fetch tools in that odious tool shed, Trent seals his own fate as the Bully Who Needs to Die.
Which is to say that everyone‘s fate is sealed in this Friday the 13th, directed by Marcus Nispel as a straight-up, mostly dim homage to the 1980 original. Deemed a “reboot” for its acknowledgement (and tedious prologue rehearsal) of the first movie’s twist (i.e., Jason’s mother did it), the movie shows more of everything, from enhanced tits and bouncy sex acts to substance abuse and bloody penetrations. It goes on to pseudo-psychologize its monster, such that Jason’s mom fixation motivates his inexorable violence (“They must be punished, Jason” mom gurgles while dying in that opening scene, “for what they did to you, for what they did to me. Kill for mother.” Yes, it’s all her fault, somehow, even more than before.
Jason, for his part, remains inscrutable throughout his rampaging (a scene where he trades in a raggedy cloth mask for the iconic hockey mask, here found among attic detritus, passes for sign of his self-aware wit, as he gazes on his new look in a broken mirror, not to display satisfaction per se, but to suggest he has a sense of his “outfit”).
In this case, the rampaging is broken into three sections—the mom’s incentive scene, a 20-minute slash-up that leaves all but one victim horrifically dead, and the story of Clay, who comes looking at Camp Crystal Lake for his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), spared during the “six weeks earlier” section because she resembles Jason’s mom and now imprisoned in a dark underground place, reached by tunnel (let’s just say, the symbolism is not subtle). The siblings also have a dead mom (lost, he explains away in a half-sentence, to cancer), but of course their coping mechanisms are less extreme. In separate scenes, both Clay and Whitney rummage through Jason’s stuff, discovering rudimentary clues to his demented psyche. Made scrutable, the monster is just dull.