Freddy Krueger is a scary horror monster in part because he's horribly disfigured, in part because of his slicey-dicey killer glove, in part because he's relentless in his pursuit of his victims, and in part because, since he's already dead, he can't be killed. Like a ghost, he can turn up almost anywhere. The catch is that Freddy haunts the dreams of his teenage victims -- and if he kills them in their dreams, they stay dead. That's a neat trick -- once his prey figure it out, they are afraid to sleep, perchance to dream. They try desperately to stay awake, until they're dead tired. And then just dead.
But since Freddy first turned up in Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the world has changed. Ritalin, Red Bull, and a Starbucks on every street corner (maybe even Elm Street) all help hapless teens stay awake a little longer. But Freddy can wait.
A Nightmare on Elm Street has been rebooted, though not very much reimagined, with a new Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) now menacing the teens of Elm Street. Freddy likes to ask of his victims "Remember me?" That's a little inside joke, of course, although the primary audience for A Nightmare on Elm Street is teens who were in elementary school last time Freddy showed his scarred face, so they probably don't remember him. Neither do the kids he's currently stalking, and he's not especially happy that they don't -- his new mission is not just to have his revenge. He'd like his victims to remember what happened the last time he "played" with them. His backstory is much the same as in the previous Elm Streets (of which there have been eight) -- Freddy was a child murderer in his former incarnations. Now he's a pedophile, and still seeking vengeance after the vigilante parents of Elm Street killed him. It's not really their fault he came back gruesomely disfigured -- he wasn't supposed to come back at all.
As before, the heroine of A Nightmare on Elm Street is Nancy (Rooney Mara), Freddy's favorite victim in life and in death. Nancy's a scrappy and resourceful heroine, and not one to go down without a fight. She gets some help from Quentin (Kyle Gallner), a pasty-faced classmate with a ready supply of prescription uppers to help him stay awake.
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street was genuinely scary, witty, and grisly, but Freddy, played by Robert Englund, became increasingly familiar, campy, and less menacing as he stalked his way through seven sequels and becamse a pop culture fixture. Haley, a former child star whose rebooted career has been built on his ability to play unsettling characters (he was Rorschach, the only good thing about Watchmen, he played another pedophile in Little Children, and he's terrific in a recurring role in the TV series Human Target), is suitably menacing as Freddy. The character's disfigured visage has been shaped around the sharp architecture of Haley's own face, notably his prominent cheekbones and horizontal slash of a mouth. Topped off, of course, by Freddy Krueger's signature fedora. Haley returns Freddy to his nightmarish, maniacal roots as a serial killer and sexual predator.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is directed by Samuel Bayer, who previously directed music videos, and written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer. The filmmakers attempt to recapture the primal terror and creativity of the first (and best) Nightmare -- it's no easy feat to imitate originality, however. Much of what made A Nightmare on Elm Street stand out from the rest of the slash pack -- the powerful heroine, the sinister mix of repressed childhood memories and unconscious fears, the inventive use of dream imagery -- is emulated in this movie. The results are adequate and passable -- A Nightmare on Elm Street is competent and sufficiently diverting, but not nearly memorable enough to have any lasting effects on the psyche.