Thursday 8 December 2011

Movie Review: FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)

Thursday 8 December 2011

directed by Craig Gillespie; written by Marti Noxon (story by Tom Holland)
starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette & David Tennant

An unexpected, feisty surprise, Craig Gillespie's remake of Tom Holland's 1985 cult horror is a sharpened stake of delicious fun from start to finish. Written by Marti Noxon (who knows a thing or two about vamps, having written for Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Fright Night buzzes with energy and style, making it one of the few remakes to best the original in almost every way.

Erstwhile geek Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) has turned his back on childhood buddy "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in order to be accepted by the jocks and win the heart of the hottest girl in school, Amy (Imogen Poots). But when Ed starts insisting that Charlie's new neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a bloodsucking creature of the night, Charlie reluctantly has to agree something's not quite right with the affable hunk next door—although working nights on the Las Vegas strip and sleeping all day behind blacked-out windows isn't unusual for residents of the Vegas suburbs...

Fright Night improves on the original in a smattering of ways (like the brilliant idea of desert suburbs with a transient population being ideal territory for a vampire aiming to swell his ranks), but never loses sight of what made the first movie work. It's simply great fun to explore the "is-my-neighbour-a-vampire?" concept, and it’s carried off well by a very engaging cast. Yelchin's protagonist is nicely drawn in a way that avoids the cliché of him being overly keen slay vampires, as he's spent the past few years distancing himself from childish fantasies; post-Kick-Ass Mintz-Plasse gets yet another geeky character to play, but he handles it very well; Poots is gorgeous and very likable, deserving a breakthrough role post-haste; Doctor Who's David Tennant lends fine support as kitsch magician/vampire expert Peter Vincent (now re-imagined as Criss Angel-meets-Russell Brand), although it's one of this remake's few flaws that Tennant's less important than his predecessor Roddy McDowell; Toni Collette gives a finely-tuned performance as Charlie's trusting mother Jane, who isn't written as a foolish doubter for too long; and headliner Farrell is wonderful as the suavely demonic Jerry, delivering just the right mix of humour, sexiness and scares.

The way Noxon's script avoids falling into too many traps is one of Fright Night's greatest strengths. It doesn't waste time going through the motions of what you expect to see from this concept, and I was so pleased Fright Night lights its fuse early and explodes to life before the first act's over. There's really no hanging around with annoying ambiguity about Jerry's true nature, or Charlie's mother taking an eternity to believe her son's crazy vampire theory. The characters aren't treated as morons, although it's admittedly difficult to believe a teenager like Charlie would need advice about how to kill a vampire. Is there anyone alive who doesn't know about sunlight, holy water and wooden stakes at this point?

Fright Night's as fun as its title, then. There's a confident bravado to everything that doesn't go overboard, which felt like a throwback to how such movies were treated in the '80s—when vampires were devious creatures to fear, not potential boyfriends with glistening skin. Part of Jerry's unnerving power comes from how, from Charlie's perspective, he's a danger to his past (best-friend Ed), present (last remaining parent) and future (the girlfriend who appreciated him for himself).

Plus there are some tremendous set-pieces, which are even better because they keep their feet on the ground and don't contain too much bloat—in duration or excessive effects. One standout sequence with Jerry trying to gain access to the Brewster household, dovetailing into a gripping high-speed chase along a desert highway (that nicely recalls Spielberg's Duel and Children Of Men's one-take forest ambush). It's relentlessly gripping stuff, brilliantly filmed and choreographed. It's true that Fright Night isn't as scary as I remember the '85 version being (although I was 8 when I saw it—blame my parents), but it feels like a conscious decision on Gillespie's part to make this more of a visceral thrill. It's certainly not true that CGI weakens the movie, as all the digital effects are used sparingly and are very effective when they come. In fact, the manner in which vampires explode into swirls of ash when coming into contact with sunlight is the new benchmark for such an effect, eclipsing Blade II.

It's been too long since we had a vampire movie to really get behind, but this takes the wit of Buffy and the instinctive punch of True Blood, then sutures it to the entertaining concept of a mid-'80s movie ripe for reinvention. Suffice to say it bombed at the worldwide box-office with a sorely disappointing $37m, while The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 sucked its fans dry of $594m (at time of writing). Let's at least make Fright Night 2011 a cult smash-hit on DVD, people...

DreamWorks / 106 mins.