Mark Reviews Movies

Fright Night (2011)


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 8/19/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 18, 2011

Fright Night is a superior reassembling of the pieces of writer/director Tom Holland's 1985 original. Where Holland's version of a geeky teenage boy confronted with the reality of a vampire living next door fell short, director Craig Gillespie's update follows through, offering a horror film that is at once funny in a modestly self-aware way, occasionally unsettling in its depiction of a bloodsucker as a murderous sexual predator, and conscious of ensuring that its main characters come across as more than potential or, in some cases, inevitable chow.

Many elements of the first movie have been changed, and most of those are for the better. The screenplay by Marti Noxon, in particular, is tighter, with much less time spent on roundabout doubts as to the protagonist's mental state and more left to a confrontation that makes even the most cynical of characters believers—sometimes after they find themselves transformed into an undead creature of the night.

The setting is inspired.  The opening shot reveals a lonely subdivision in the middle of the desert outside of Las Vegas, where people come and go after living without many personal attachments to notice, casino employees hold jobs with odd hours, and no one questions that the neighbor is performing major landscaping work in the middle of the night. Our hero Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) doesn't think much of the fact that his new neighbor has a dumpster full of concrete in the driveway and probably wouldn't have noticed if his mother Jane (Toni Collette), a realtor, didn't complain that it gives a bad impression to potential homebuyers.

Charley has a pretty girlfriend named Amy (Imogen Poots), whom many—most of all Charley—believe is out of his league. He was a nerd in his youth, making amateur fantasy movies with former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and has since grown up, leaving poor Ed behind and resentful of his old companion's new popularity. In return, Charley resents Ed for making him feel so bad about severing ties.

The two come together one last time to investigate the disappearance of a classmate, one of many who have vanishing without a trace recently. Ed is convinced that Charley's new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and even has a kit full of the usual precautionary tools—stakes, crosses, holy water, and garlic. Charley doesn't buy into the theory.

Of course, Jerry is a vampire, and Farrell plays the part without flourish, instead channeling a quiet, reserved stillness that accentuates the moments when Jerry transforms into a hideous beast with a large mouth and jagged teeth. The menace is simmering just beneath the surface (The way he eyes Jane and Amy when they all first meet is all the foreshadowing we need), much in the same way that Javier Aguirresarobe's foggy cinematography (done no favors but plenty of harm by the extra dimness that comes with post-conversion 3-D) portends unknown things in the shadows of empty tract houses.

There are some tense setpieces accompanying Charley's investigation of the goings-on surrounding Jerry's odd lifestyle. The standout comes when Charley, after hearing a woman's scream and watching the police leave after taking Jerry at his word ("Of course, I made her scream"), takes matters into his own hands, exploring the interior of his neighbor's home while he's away only to be backed into a corner when Jerry unexpectedly returns. Deeper and deeper Charley travels into the truth of Jerry's nightly activities, uncovering a secret passageway with locked cells on either side and witnessing a feeding (The victim gives the first of a few notable character moments when she shows concern for the kid as the life slowly drains from her), until Gillespie brings the sequence to a minimalist climax with a precise series of pans that track Jerry's movements while Charley awaits a moment to escape.

Another comes in the form of a car chase, seen entirely from the perspective of inside the van of the pursued with the camera rotating to capture each new development. Charley and Amy fight an old acquaintance who falls prey to Jerry in a room full of vampire-killing equipment owned by Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a stage magician who claims to be an expert on the creatures but is as fake as his hair, mustache, goatee, tattoos, etc. A final showdown in Jerry's lair makes effective use of limited space and escalating impediments.

Gillespie and Noxon aren't afraid to wink at genre conventions (The establishment of the pointy stakes of open house signs pays off, and one character breaks the tension of a vampire hunt by finding a better source of light), and they bring sincerity to the moments that really matter (Ed's farewell is surprisingly poignant, and even Jerry sheds a bloody tear at a critical point). Fright Night is clever genre filmmaking that better fulfills the concept of its predecessor.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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