Fright Night (Review)

The Fright Night remake surprisingly turns out to be a complete blast, and the fact that the movie is so aware of how much fun it is only adds to the hugely entertaining campiness.

The remake is a funny thing.  Sometimes, it just seems right to introduce an older film to a new audience.  At the same time, there is a high risk of damaging the sanctity of the original film.  They’ve had a relatively poor track record as well; even while Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit turned out to be massively entertaining and fresh takes on the classics, they were a couple of bright spots in the ocean of abysmal filmmaking that included such duds as Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the Psycho that starred Vince Vaughn that nobody saw, and the alarmingly bad Steve Martin version of The Pink Panther.  It seemed odd to remake the 1985 campy classic Fright Night out of nowhere, and even more odd to cast Colin Farrell as the vampire antagonist. I was even completely oblivious to the 2011 revival until I saw the poster at my local cinema.  On a whim, I decided to give Fright Night the benefit of a doubt.

Fright Night focuses on a teenager named Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his single mother (Toni Collette) living in their suburban household in Nevada.  Charley is relatively happy in his high school life with his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), despite occasionally clashing with his nerdy former best friend “Evil” Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  There are also increasing numbers of students missing from Charley’s class.  One day, Ed pulls Charley aside and shares with Charley his suspicion that Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire.  Disgusted, Charley rejects Ed’s suggestion, because, as he points out to his estranged buddy, Jerry “is a terrible name for a vampire”.  It’s only after Ed disappears and Jerry starts exhibiting some suspicious behavior that Charley sneaks into Jerry’s house and discovers the truth that his neighbor is a vampire, and takes it upon himself to try to prove it.  To do so, he enlists the help of local illusionist and self-proclaimed vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant).

Director Craig Gillespie seemed familiar to me when I watched the credits to the film, so a quick visit to IMDB was in order.  One of his first films?  The outstanding and touching Ryan Gosling romance Lars and the Real Girl.  That explains, then, why the acting in Fright Night is surprisingly and pleasantly great.  Anton Yelchin really isn’t given much to do beyond looking intense and/or scared at various points in the film, but he seems to have a gift for playing off other actors, and his scenes with Farrell have a nice, healthy sense of energy, even when neither of them are moving.  As in Horrible Bosses earlier this year (which I loved), Farrell is having a ball playing another villain, and his performance has a sort of slimy, seductive quality to it; he’s an evil, evil vampire, but he commands the screen with a delightful menace that feels effortless and tense all at once: he’s a lot of fun to watch.  On the other hand, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who everyone knows as McLovin from Superbad, plays his role with all the subtlety of, well, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  That’s a good thing, as Ed’s eventual appearance as a freshly turned vampire feels natural considering how the formerly bullied character now wields remarkable power and relishes it completely.  It’s one of my favorite sequences in the movie and while I wasn’t sold on Mintz-Plasse way back in Superbad, his roles in Role Models, Kick-Ass and this are quickly turning him into one of my favorite young actors to watch.  David Tennant–yes, that David Tennant from Doctor Who–gives a performance that seems like a marriage between Russel Brand and Criss Angel, and the result is some of the funniest bits of the film coming straight from him.

Fright Night is a campy, silly ride, and is well aware of it.  It’s this conscious sense of fun that makes the movie so great, as well as the meticulous attention to giving it a distinct 80s flavor.  Even beyond the actors, the visual style and pacing of the film make if feel very old-school, and there is a palpable feeling that the makers of the film are in on the joke and winking at the audience. It’s not a particularly scary film, but it has some of those thrills and chills that prompt a smile instead of a sense of dread. It’s a great formula and I was delighted all the way through.

If there’s one thing Fright Night has going against it, it’s the CGI.  As noted before, considerable care and attention is given to crafting the movie in the cinematic style of older horror films like the original Fright Night, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.  However, this care occasionally clashes with the sheen of a 2011 movie.  That is to say, sometimes the special effects stick out, and that’s not a pun on the 3D.  It just looks too expensive sometimes and it’s distracting for a movie that is supposed to have the look and feel of an old-school film.  The effects aren’t all bad all the time, but some of them aren’t entirely polished and that makes them even more noticeable.  It seems like there could have practical effects used in some areas where the filmmakers went with CGI instead.  It’s a fairly minor complaint, and the overall effect on the entertainment value of the movie is negligible at the most, but it’s still notable all the same.

At the end of the day, Fright Night is simply a blast.  It doesn’t have a great deal of emotional weight and there is little that will set it apart as one of the best movies of the year, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a movie that had me smiling as much as I was during Fright Night.  A script with almost perfect comedic timing could be the magic element, or perhaps the cast that seems like they probably would have turned and winked at the audience had the cameras been rolling just a few seconds longer.  Despite the occasionally unnecessary-feeling CGI, it’s a very solid update on the classic movie and delivers great thrills and plenty of belly laughs.  Definitely not a film that should be missed, even by the remake skeptics.  It’s just a great time at the movies.

Score: **** (out of 5)

Rated: R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.

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Posted on August 24, 2011, in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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