Review: Craig Gillespie's 'Fright Night' Makes Vampires Cool Again
by Jeremy Kirk
August 19, 2011
The 1985 Fright Night is not the embodiment of a classic. A cool, hip vampire tale, the love for it — and likewise, the decries of shame on its remake — seems built on nostalgia, an admiration and the definition of "classic" that only means it's at least 20 years old. There was room for improvement, which is precisely why the 2011 Fright Night works for the most part. It updates the story to the modern age, transports the setting from big city suburbia to the desert-based developments outside of Las Vegas, and shakes the narrative structuring up to avoid that lived-in feel. What's more, the cast is made up of some top notch talent each bringing their A-game to a B-movie, and for that alone, for the seriousness with which everyone involved in Fright Night seems to be bringing to it, it's a remake that replaces instead of reminds, an update that has teeth and knows how to use them.
Whether you're a fan of the original Fright Night or have never seen a frame of it, the structure of the new film takes a bit of getting used to. When it starts, Charley Brewster, played by Anton Yelchin, is a popular kid at his high school, one of the cool group who has a nice looking girlfriend, played by Imogen Poots. He once was a geek who would gladly LARP — go ahead and look that up, it's SFW — with his then best friend Ed, played by Christopher Mint-Plasse. So when Charley notices his fellow students are disappearing, and when Ed comes to him claiming Charley's new neighbor Jerry, played by Colin Farrell, is a vampire, Charley is reluctant to help. But soon after, Ed disappears himself, and Charley realizes there may be some truth to his friend’s warnings.
Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Marti Noxon, Fright Night drops you into an interesting setting from frame one. The attacks have been going on for weeks, kids disappearing, the vampire stalking through the night — Fright Night isn't a mystery, and it's definitely Jerry the vampire doing the evil work. When the film begins, Ed has already been hard at work piecing together evidence, photos, and video of Jerry to convince Charley and the world of what is going on. And to Fright Night's credit, this cold open sets the pace early. Thankfully, it rarely dips back down into idle territory.
Within 30 minutes, we're made aware of Jerry's nefarious dealing, Charley begins his own investigation of his neighbor's nightly nature — nosh would have been a good word there, too — and Jerry, in turn, is aware of the suspicions on him. There is a point late in the film, once the third act kicks in, where the pace Gillespie has set gets ahead of itself, where it feels like everything is rushing to its conclusion when it should be keeping it even, confident, and unhurried. Still, a small price to pay for a story that hardly lets up.
The special effects don't seem to want to let up, either, and they end up being Fright Night's biggest setback. It's nothing new to see loads and loads of CG thrown into modern horror films, an inclusion that makes one wonder if there was a point where a PG-13 rating was considered. The finished film is R, and while it includes ample amounts of blood and gore, most of it looks out of place. The pointless 3D doesn't help, but CG this obvious has a bad habit of taking you right out of the film, even in such excellently crafted and executed moments like a minutes-long shot that pans around the interior of a speeding car. That moment and several others are to Gillespie's credit, who isn't satisfied with merely pointing and shooting the story.
It also helps that everyone in the cast does an absolutely superb job. Yelchin straddles that line between cool and geeky just as the character should. Mintz-Plasse never takes Ed into self-parody, a direction that seems easy to do considering the original film's performance. Toni Collette and Imogen Poots play Charley's mother and girlfriend, respectively, and each do solid work considering much of their performance is bred from a place of bewilderment. A single inspired cameo shows just how much fun Gillespie wanted to instill in the film.
There are two absolute stand-outs in Fright Night, though. One is Farrell. As the vampire villain, he brings a level of cool and carnal that goes way beyond the true definition of the word "toothsome". He does so, too, with complete joy, throwing in little twitches, character quirks, and clearly on-set reactions that help bring an undead character to brilliant life. Basically, Gillespie and crew hired Colin Farrell to play a supercool vampire, and that's precisely what we're given.
The other stand-out is David Tennant as Peter Vincent, a Criss Angel-like illusionist who's perfect for Vegas. Vincent incorporates vampire lore into his act, so naturally Charley goes to him for advice on how to dispatch one. What Charley finds, though, is a rock star rather than a musician, a flamboyant but foul diva type who'd rather swig on Vodka and buy cool artifacts off of eBay than get into any real trouble. Tennant flares out his peacock feathers just right having as much fun playing the too-cool Vincent as he is the frightened Vincent when things take a turn. Of course, that third act mentioned early throws in some meaningless revelations that don’t add anything nor are used to any extent. Less is more, and when it comes to the Peter Vincent character in Fright Night, someone should have listened.
But evident computer graphics and slight missteps with certain characters and pacing aren't enough to keep Fright Night from being fun night out. It more than does the original justice, it surpasses it, a rarity for remakes even considering how mediocre some of those originals are. Fright Night knows what it is and what it needs to do, and therein lie the thrills and laughs needed for an entertaining and amusing vampire tale. Never too serious but never obnoxiously ludicrous and with Farrell donning the fangs, Fright Night makes being a vampire cool again and makes watching a movie about vampires fun again.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10