Fright Night (2011) – Review19.08.11 # Review # 4 Comments
Our Fright Night Review.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots
Release Date: US – Out Now / UK – 2nd September
With so many vampires on the large and small screen these days, it begs the question why, oh why, remake Fright Night? Answer: because it’s good. Very good.
While no one, maybe not even the filmmakers, believes this movie will redefine vampiredom (yep, that’s a real term) on the silver screen, from the opening scene one can tell they are in for a silly popcorn flick that’s far smarter than the average thrill ride.
Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a recovering nerd. After a long, careful climb up the social ladder he finally has his “in” with the cool crowd: he’s dating a hot chick. But his precarious social standing is almost toppled by “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), former best friend and the last piece of evidence that Charley was ever a nerd. Ed is convinced that folks are disappearing from their Las Vegas suburb and the culprit is Charley’s next-door neighbor (and vampire), Jerry (Colin Farrell).
Ed is correct. Hilarity ensues.
Fright Night is as rare as a real vampire, a horror/comedy that’s both scary and funny. This is partly due to screenwriter Marti Noxon who has visited this territory before on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Noxon has honed a slim and concise narrative that uses clever plot twists and realistic characters to convey story instead of ponderous exposition and needless gore (though don’t fear gore-hounds, there is plenty of blood and bone and red, pulpy explosions for you).
Unlike many genre scripts, Fright Night does not use its premise as a crutch (What? We put a vampire in it, what more do they want?!) and transcends its simple set-up by populating the story with likable characters and clever scares. Noxon is a pro who spent hours letting her imagination dance over the most important question in storytelling, what if? What if a vampire victim doesn’t know they’re infected? What if a vampire can’t enter a home without an invitation but has super strength (and easy access to construction hardware)? What if … well, the rest would be spoilers.
Noxon’s script also has the benefit of falling into the hands of Craig Gillespie, a director who made his name in the commercial world before his first film, Lars and the Real Girl, garnered much critical praise. While Lars is a far cry from Fright Night in terms of tone, what Gillespie brought to the project was a desire to play with the camera in ways he couldn’t in a character-driven indie dramedy and an attention to character that shines through every actor’s performance.
From the great performances Gillespie pulls from “soon-to-be-dead” characters to the slow, bit-by-bit reveal of Jerry’s full vampiric appearance, the directing choices in Fright Night are a cut above the rest when it comes to summer fare.
The cast has much to do with this film’s success as well. Leading the bunch is Colin Farrell who absolutely revels in his character. Playing off the roguish sexuality that cursed his early career choices and the playful nuance that’s informed his recent indie work, Farrell saunters and glares his way through the film. Some of his choices border on brilliant, such as the disturbing scene where Jerry, an old, bored vampire must rile himself up in order to suck a woman’s blood. This is more than a fun (and not-too-subtle) play on the vampire-as-a-sex-metaphor trope, but also a smart reveal of inner character.
David Tennant also turns in a scene-stealing performance as Peter Vincent, a Criss Angel wannabe who hides his cowardice and non-belief behind a Las Vegas headliner veneer. While fans of the original film might decry this change (Roddy McDowell played the original Peter Vincent, a washed-up and desperate old actor forced to do a shlocky late-night television show to pay the bills) keep in mind this is a remake, not a sequel, and while the appearance has changed the heart and vibe of the original film are very much intact. While Tennant’s version of Peter Vincent is more brash and vibrant he’s also more pathetic. McDowell’s version had lost his career while Tennant’s version has lost his soul. This allows for a much stronger character arc and redemption in the new film, an underlying pathos not only to Tennant’s character but to the entire film, which keeps it from falling into the annoying campiness of the original.
Rounding out the main cast are Anton Yelchin and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Yelchin’s version of Charley Brewster is incredibly restrained. His entire arc is conveyed without dialog and while the script may call for him to become a tough vampire-slayer but in the end it’s Yelchin’s performance which makes it convincing. So too for Mintz-Plasse, who shows, as he did in Kick-Ass, that he’s capable of more than McLovin variations. The second half of the film required him to stretch far beyond his previous roles and he pulls if off well.
While the film is not without its flaws (blatant product placement and underdeveloped female characters chief among them), Fright Night is a riotous good time with a surprising emotional core. It’s deftly made with a few good surprises and, in the current barren wasteland of sci-fi vampire apocalypse that’s plaguing the film industry, it’s an oasis of old-school horror entertainment.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Our Grade: B+