Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Let’s kill something.

Image: Walt Disney

Tom Holland’s original Fright Night is remembered with a great deal of nostalgia but, if we’re being brutally honest, it doesn’t bear much close examination. It’s neither stylish enough to hang out with The Lost Boys nor as innovative as Near Dark. It’s a cheesy 80s vampire movie that has a great name, some fun make-up, and a lot of charm. How would Fright Night 2011 compare?

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) finally has things going his way. He’s got a gorgeous, popular girlfriend (Imogen Poots), the jocks are accepting him, and he’s ignoring his geeky former best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). So when Ed tells him his new neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, Charley assumes it’s just attention seeking. But people are going missing, and Jerry wants to be invited in...

It’s surprising quite how fun this updated Fright Night has turned out to be. Not only does it hit most of the major story beats of the original, but it completely understands that odd mix of campy fun, surprising gore, and genuine creepiness. Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and screenwriter Marti Noxon don’t try to make this version much darker or moodier, but they don’t make fun of the original either. The vampire next door plot is difficult to play completely straight, but Holland’s original didn’t take that path either. That being said, the clever script and excellent cast help to make Jerry Dandridge a serious threat.

It’s during the first two acts, with its cat and mouse game between Jerry and Charley, that Fright Night is strongest. Noxon has a mixed track record with vamps, as she was in charge of Buffy during its difficult fifth season, but she’s on fine form here. Her screenplay shows off the witty/scary mix that’s very reminiscent of the Slayer. Charley's home situation is played upon by Jerry, who plays upon his newly discovered masculine pride by reminding him that he’s got to look out for his single mum Jane (Toni Collette) as well as his girlfriend. Farrell’s always been an underrated villain and he hasn’t had this much fun since In Bruges. His Jerry Dandridge is quite different to Chris Sarandon’s - all brooding sexuality and jet-black predator’s eyes with a sly sense of humour. It’s great to see a vampire movie that sums up the monster’s motives with “He’s the fucking shark from Jaws!” It’s a target which Farrell aims for and hits. 

Yelchin (Star Trek) is both charismatic and gawky enough to convince as Charley, while Poots (28 Weeks Later) does well as the strong-willed Amy, though Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) doesn’t get enough to do. Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) still hasn’t shaken McLovin but at least he gets to go to a darker place. Finally, there’s a grand comic turn from David Tennant, who’s thoroughly enjoying himself as the swearing, boozing, crotch-scratching Vegas magician Peter Vincent who Charley turns to for help (quite the change from Roddy McDowall’s genteel horror movie veteran). 

The film does stumble in the third act. There’s some unnecessary back-story from Vincent that slows the film down when it should be picking up speed, and the final confrontation doesn’t quite hit as hard as it should. Meanwhile the 3D, though far from the worst we’ve seen, doesn’t particularly do much except make Vegas look gloomy, which is pretty difficult. But this is a respectful update and, for the most part, it gets the laugh/scare ratio right. It’s well-cast and performed with great relish, and it’s gory, funny stuff.

Verdict: Great fun. It’s not perfect but it’s one of the most enjoyable popcorn horror movies you’ll see this year. If only it wasn’t in 3D...



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