I am likely one of very few critics that sat down to watch Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night having not seen Tom Holland’s 1985 original first, but upon doing so after, feel I’ve unintentionally done myself a great service.
Now that I’ve seen it, the original is a great film; Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige and Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent are uniquely them, the tone and pace a perfect example of eighties horror done right – smart and campy all at once. Like most re-makes/re-imaginings, if the original felt good and was a part of my film collage growing up, it would have colored my perception of the new offering by default. This certainly isn’t bad, but it’s not always the best way to approach something new.
I am glad then that in putting the cart before the horse, I was able to appreciate and have a good bit of fun with this latest offering.
Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives in a nameless, cookie-cutter suburb on the outskirts of Las Vegas with his mother. Charley has recently moved up a station in life, breaking through the high school social glass ceiling from dweeb to popular kid via his relationship with alpha pretty Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots), and perhaps an improved complexion. The last remnant of his past geekdom is the fraying connection he has with former best friend Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Ed tries to pull Charley out of the world of keggers and dude-bros long enough to convince him that Charley’s new wife-beater sporting neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is an honest-to-god vampire, and responsible for the rash of vanishing classmates that nobody seems to pay much notice but him.
By the time Charley is convinced, it’s all too late — as Ed has vanished, Jerry has been outed as a bloodsucker, and Charley is left to make a stand against him to save the people he loves.
Screenwriter Marti Noxon‘s script is mostly slick, sinister, and playful — and the casting goes far to make sure that almost all of the characters pop, though some supporting cast confoundedly fall by the wayside. The fantastic David Tennant (Doctor Who, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is perfectly cast as Chris Angel-style Vegas blowhard and vampire expert Peter Vincent. Kudos to the casting director for avoiding the obvious but inexplicably popular Russel Brand for a role he was born to butcher. Tennant’s snark and drunken bluster are welcome and enjoyable, and the turn on the character from a poor has-been in the previous film to a wealthy douche-canoe works relatively well.
Anton Yelchin’s Charley is relatable as a character perpetually over his head, endearingly self-doubting, while still believably taking up his mantle as protector when he finally faces Jerry, even if he still mostly sucks at it and knows it.
The real gem in this version of Fright Night is Colin Farrell, however. While Chris Sarandon played Jerry Dandrige with his own sinister cool, Farrell adds a smooth swagger and a twinkle to the character’s eye that, even in his most violent moments, make him too badass not to like. Farrell clearly had fun with Jerry, making a line as simple as,” Hey,” worth an out-loud chuckle.
Fright Night 2011 is its own animal — paying gentle homage to the original while clearly aiming for a new audience, a different make and model, and a little more on-the-nose narrative and explodey action. Mintz-Plasse gets little screen time, but you feel for him when he’s abandoned by Charley for his new life of parties, hot chicks, and absolutely no faux-sword fights. Sadly, his return doesn’t mean a lot due to said lack of presence. Imogen Poots is mildly believable as the perfect ten that inexplicably sees past the wormy, nervousness of Charley to the good guy he is.
Also of note, is the 3D — what to me is most often a dirty word, and a film fad to be quickly swept under the rug until such point as the technology is perfected, I’ll say this was the second 3D film after Cars 2 where the 3D was not only unobtrusive, but sort of fun. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe does a commendable job of not only not beating us over the head with the gimmick, but making it work in a film that is set almost entirely in the darkness of night. While I can always do without, the biggest praise I can ever give a film shot in 3D is that I didn’t want to punch it in the face. Your face is safe, Fright Night.
This Fright Night will never be a classic, though I’ll submit that the original isn’t quite the classic it’s painted as, but rather a really good movie punched up beyond its station by nostalgic thirty-somethings (I am guilty of this) – but it’s good summer entertainment with an attractive and talented cast, easy hook, and a solid excuse to get yourself to a theater.
THE UPSIDE: Lean, fun story, an awesomely wicked Colin Ferrell, and 3D that doesn’t make you want to unload a shotgun into your chest, blasting yourself through a plate-glass window into a tank of Siamese Fighting Fish. So, there is that.
THE DOWNSIDE: I still don’t understand how Peter Vincent knew how to get to Charley’s house — you’ll know what I mean. Mintz-Plasse is forgotten as Ed and Imogen Poots screams a lot — they really don’t get their due. I will always and without fail, prefer any film shot in 3D to regular film no matter how well it’s currently used. The technology simply isn’t there, and the glasses are still an ever-present distraction.
ON THE SIDE: Though she’ll lose, Imogen Poots is completely free to fight Emma Stone for my affection.