Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th has everything you could possibly want from a new installment of the long-running slasher series: vaguely interesting but mostly generic characters; a wealth of nudity, sex and drug use; and a series of inventive and shocking death scenes.
Going back to the original three films in the series, Nispel and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form wisely jettisoned supernatural themes, space adventures and taking Manhattan in lieu of a streamlined, sensible depiction of the masked murderer known as Jason Voorhees, crafting a technically superior and artistically credible slasher movie that's destined to be a genre benchmark—on any day of the week.
Jared Padalecki (TV's Supernatural) plays Clay Miller, a drifter who crosses paths with a group of vacationing co-eds while looking for his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Clay's search eventually leads him to Crystal Lake, an abandoned summer camp that has served as refuge for Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) since he saw his mother beheaded some 30 years ago. In between drunken episodes, sexual escapades and plenty of going where they're not supposed to go, Clay and his new companions fight for their lives as Jason decides that the price for trespassing—not to mention reminding him of his long-lost Mommy—is nothing short of death.
After 11 films and almost 30 years, Jason Voorhees still looks mighty spry, whether he's tearing ass through the woods or just scaring the pants off moviegoers. Much as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead transformed zombies from lumbering, glacial hordes into murderous, breakneck mobs, Nispel's Jason is a lean, mean killing machine, annihilating the outdated characterization of the hockey-mask-wearing refrigerator who wreaked havoc in previous films. Additionally, Derek Mears lends Jason a kind of expressiveness, and even a humanity, that he's never had before, which may earn the monster some genuine sympathy—if only so he can return to kill again.
Further, Friday the 13th populates its cast with some of the most attractive actors in the series' history, and it wisely indulges the audience's desire to see most of them unclothed. But for a picture that confidently knows that it's prettied-up exploitation fare, the performances are compelling and the direction is artful, at least in the sense that Nispel and his cinematographer Daniel Pearl (of both the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its remake) make both the babymaking and the bloodletting look genuinely good.
Technically speaking, Friday the 13th is probably the best-made of all of the films in the series, including the original. While that might count as blasphemy to some, it's likely a blessing to those who have waited patiently for an installment that counts as a genuinely good movie, not just another quality-be-damned Jason adventure. In other words, it took almost three decades for someone to make a follow-up to the original that's truly worthy of the name Friday the 13th—which is why, for once, I don't care how they bring him back, just as long as they do.