Opinions regarding the plethora of sequels and spin-offs from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street vary from one horror connoisseur to the next, but the 2010 reboot is easily the most collectively abhorred of the series. Discredited by critics as a pale imitation of Wes Craven’s horror classic, the Michael Bay produced Freddy Krueger vehicle does have its fair share of derivative ingredients to back up those denouncements. From dialogue that hits square on the nose to abandoning the colorfully surreal nature of the original for more bleak, saturated cinematography, it’s no surprise there was a stringent rejection by Craven purists. But what is greatly overlooked and undervalued about director Samuel Bayer’s updated vision is that it evolves the core concept of the original into its own darkly absorbing tale that explores the deep-seeded effects of childhood trauma.
Craven’s nightmare dealt with a deranged individual who murdered children when he was alive, but to the late director’s admittance, he abstained his original idea to make Krueger a child molester as well, believing sensitive audiences at the time would reject his vision of the most evil person he could possibly imagine. This of course did nothing to detract from what made the original a classic to this day, that the monstrosity of Freddy is but a placeholder for the unassailable darkness deeply seeded within the human psyche. Thoughts of death, depression or existential dread can all be projected onto what Freddy’s nightmares represent, but the very idea that the children in the white-bread suburban town of Springwood had to face this unseeable, but very real, evil on their lonesome while their parents attempted to suppress and deny its existence spoke significantly to a generation.
By the time the reboot came to its 2010 fruition, the new storytellers decided to go all in on the notion that Freddy was a child molester. This provided the opportunity to explore lead characters who had been personally victimized by Krueger as young children, as apposed to Nancy and her friends from the original who were never confirmed to share any personal relation to the tragedies of their town’s past. Having a new cast of characters slowly discovering their memories of being abused by a child predator cast an even darker shadow on this new iteration, but it resulted in a unique investigation of repressed wounds.
The remake abandons all characters from the original, save for the lead’s first name, Nancy, and, of course, head honcho slasher, Freddy Krueger. But Freddy takes on a slightly different persona here. Gone is the playful trickster Robert Englund excellently conquered the personality of. Instead, Jackie Earle Haley brings the grim and scary, conveying a jaws-like inevitability while approaching his victims, feverishly rubbing his finger-knives together, hungry for blood. His voice booming and arresting. This is one intimidating rendition of Freddy. And it all works to portray a more aggressive abuser necessary for this new narrative.
The movie begins, like the original did, by tricking the audience into thinking the lead roll belongs to another. Though her screen presence lasts a mere ten minutes longer than Tina’s from the original, our time with Kris actually feels more intimate, witnessing more of her nightmares as she searches for clues from her childhood. Even those who have seen the original might be tricked into believing Kris is the head scream queen. As Kris recounts her nightmares of Freddy to her boyfriend, Jesse, it becomes clear that he too has been encountering the same monster in his own dreams. As the teens in this story move into adulthood, the nightmares that begin bubbling are memories of repressed physical and sexual abuse they experienced in pre-school from the grounds gardener at the time, Freddy Krueger. But Jesse denies Freddy and the very real past he and Kris share with him. When Kris ends up dead at the hand of Krueger’s nightmare, Jesse can no longer deny the truth.
The deaths in this movie are a direct metaphor for a victim’s suicide when the haunting memories of abuser’s actions become too overwhelming to bare. At the start of the story, the first of the victimized teens to die, Dean, is forced by the specter of Freddy to cut his own throat. “You’re not real,” he screams just before making the slash. Just as anyone who must confront the hard reality of a traumatizing past, denying the truth of such a memory can lead down an insufferable road that, all too often, ends in tragedy.
After Kris and Jesse end up dead by way of nightmare, Nancy and Quentin take on the roll of investigators to a past that’s back to haunt them. Both characters are outcasts to a length, with Nancy the most socially introverted. As an artist, she stays indoors and in touch with her creative side, a trait often manifested in those who have suffered a damaging past.
As the two characters avoid sleep at all cost, their tired appearances evoke a visual resemblance to that of drug abuse. The less they rest to avoid the nightmare of Freddy, the more pronounced the shadows under their eyes and the blotching in their skin appears. The lack of sleep Nancy and Quentin undergo here is purposely analogous to a victim’s turning to harmful drugs to suppress the pain from their wounded psyche. In both cases, it’s the only way to avoid a cruel ghost of the past. The movie makes this connection most notably in a scene where Quentin drives to a pharmacy to refill the pills he needs to stay awake while Nancy awaits in the parked car. Quentin aggressively begs and pleads to a pharmacist who refuses to refill his prescription, while Nancy – covered in sweat as though fighting withdrawals – reaches for the car’s plug heater and jams it into her forearm to jolt herself awake. Her relief from the sensation comparable to a junkie’s relief from self-injecting a needle.
About halfway through the movie, Quentin experiences a nightmare that reveals his and Nancy’s parent’s involvement in Krueger’s murder. After finding out their parents committed the crime without any hard proof of Krueger’s wrongdoings, Quentin and Nancy begin to sympathize with their former abuser, believing he may not have actually been guilty of the heinous violations their parents accused him of. This uncertainty Quentin and Nancy feel is akin to the regret that many real-life victims experience when making accusations against their abuser. The mental wounds inflicted by the victimizer can be so domineering that, in some cases, the victim will actually be convinced that their own memories of the past are a lie. And it’s this misplaced belief of being in the wrong that lead Nancy and Quentin right into Freddy’s trap.
When their investigation takes them to the basement under their former pre-school, Nancy and Quentin find undeniable evidence of Freddy’s disgusting violations against them and their classmates as children. But Freddy wants them to remember, just as any true victimizer would, because their memories are what grants him his power over them. As Quentin puts it, “We were wrong. He’s not after us because we lied. He’s after us because we told the truth.” The nightmares they experience aren’t due to their own wrongful accusations, they’re from very real scars that were inflicted on them beyond their control. A fact that is, sadly, oftentimes difficult for victims of repressed trauma to accept.
In the climax, Nancy makes the choice to confront the trauma of her past once and for all by willingly entering Freddy’s nightmare in an attempt to capture and bring him into reality. After all, the only way any victim can truly overcome traumatic stress is by first acknowledging and accepting the reality of it. Once there, Freddy ties Nancy down in bed with her childhood dress, forcing her to relive the nightmare he made of her childhood. He tells Nancy to, “Look what you did to me,” while gesturing at his burnt face, attempting to, once again, elicit her guilt for the consequences of his own actions. But this time Nancy fights back, wise to his illusions. Managing to bring him into reality and, with the help of Quentin, subdue him, she cuts off his razored hand – dismantling the very appendage used to assault her and her classmates as a child – and slices his head off, killing him once and for all. An affective sequence that displays the attainable empowerment found from confronting and coming to terms with psychological wounds of the past.
Although in no way a game changer to the horror genre, 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street brought new layers of depth to a well that had long since been run dry. As a remake, it takes the essential ingredients of the original and uses them as a means to explores the psychological ramifications of child molestation in an allegorical manner that is both raw and empowering. It also manages to restore a level of tensity and terror that had been long lost on legendary slasher, Freddy Krueger. These additions to the series alone make this reboot, at the very least, a worthy endeavor.