Fright Night (2011)

Reviewed By Daniel Kelly
Posted 09/08/11 03:04:19

4 stars (Worth A Look)

Thanks to the mystifying success of the “Twilight” franchise, Hollywood has become fixated with mining vampires for box-office dollars. On a slightly staler note, studio executives have been trumpeting remakes for decades, sitting back on rehashed notions and brand awareness to ensure maximum financial return. However despite these indisputable truths, it remains surprising that anybody would demand a remake of 1985’s “Fright Night”. The picture was indeed a macabre yet goofy joy, celebrating in full the cheesy majesty of late night horror, but that’s surely not something modern audiences would be overly interested in. Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon appear to be on the same wavelength, marking their remake out as a much different beast than the original. The basic premise remains, but the filmmakers have restructured the story by introducing new themes and set-pieces. It’s a welcome approach to the project and one which leads to a satisfying end product.

Charley (Anton Yelchin) has put aside his nerdy past to focus on a potentially bright and sociable future. His new girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) is intelligent and beautiful, although she has come at the expense of ditching awkward ex-best buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Charley is left dumbfounded when Ed approaches him looking for help, insisting that Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Disregarding Ed’s comments as the ramblings of a desperate and lonely geek, Charley chooses to remain ignorant, until Ed disappears and he meets Jerry face to face. On the surface Jerry is merely a handsome guy with a womanizing habit, but with a little probing Charley deduces that Ed’s theories might actually have been correct. Jerry doesn’t show up on mirrors or cameras, and as more people vanish in the local area Charley’s suspicions become concrete. Seeking the help of boozy showman Peter Vincent (David Tennant), the teen begins to plot against Jerry, but the charismatic vampire isn’t going down without a fight.

Leaving aside David Tennant’s knowingly overblown turn as Peter Vincent, the 2011 incarnation of “Fright Night” is less jokey than its predecessor. The filmmakers open the picture with a brutal and suspenseful vampire attack, using tight camerawork and aggressive visuals to kick things off with a bang. Director Craig Gillespie runs through the set-up speedily but with enough detail to allow viewers the chance to form a solid connection with the characters, lavishing extra detail upon Ed and Charley, the former possibly this remake’s most interesting screen presence. It’s an economic but competent scripting job by Noxon (who also penned numerous episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) that understands what audiences what, but which also seeks to imbue the protagonists with enough heart and relatable emotional nuance. It’s a confident piece of writing, nicely supplemented by Craig Gillespie’s proficient direction. Gillespie has never operated in the realm of horror before (he helmed 2007’s “Lars and the Real Girl”), but he does good work here, lathering the picture with moody cinematography and an appreciatively energetic tempo.

The performances are peachy across the board, with special mentions being reserved for Tennant, Mintz-Plasse and Farrell. As the chief villain Farrell is an unstoppable monster, the Irishman bringing proper viciousness and threat to the part. It’s certainly a hammy bit of acting in spots, but when Gillespie wants the suspense to swell, Farrell is on hand to effectively unnerve viewers. Yelchin isn’t remarkable but he is solid, ditto for the extremely attractive Imogen Poots. As a pair they maintain a workable but far from electric chemistry, something that may well have factored into this version’s downplaying of the original’s sexual subtext. Mintz-Plasse ends up bookending the picture more than anything else, but he does impress, capturing the two very different sides of Ed with skill and enthusiasm. Tennant on the other hand is mostly present to deliver bravado and comic relief, although the picture does attempt to imbue his character with a little extra dramatic heft come the finale. This specific addition doesn’t really work, but given the level of entertainment value Tennant offers, it’s not a major issue.

Aside from the brief but visceral opening, the movie manages several other genuinely unsettling moments, namely one in which Charley attempts to rescue one of Jerry’s future snacks. The film utilizes clever shot construction and Farrell’s malicious turn brilliantly here, Gillespie rounding out the sequence with an almighty bang. “Fright Night” never replicates the excellence of this scene again, but there are still several other enjoyable intervals, including the basement set climax. Gillespie handles the action with minimal flair, but it’s all comprehensible, and due to the character work enacted in the opening two thirds audiences will already be soundly invested.

Unfortunately the picture overuses CGI during pivotal moments, subtracting somewhat from the hardened horror sensibility the movie is clearly keen to exude. It may possibly be a punt for younger audience members or simply a creative misstep on Gillespie’s part, but “Fright Night” would certainly have benefited from a more practical FX aesthetic. Still, such complaints feel minor, especially given that this is a remake which delivers gratifying popcorn escapism. It may not be the most innovative or elegant piece of work to inhabit cinema screens this year, but “Fright Night” definitely manages to deliver a good time.

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