Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Fright Night
Dir. Craig Gillespie

3.5 out of 5

Evil is afoot in the Las Vegas suburbs of
Fright Night, where teenage social climber Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) imprudently rejects the supposition posed by his geeky estranged friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that his intense next door neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is not a human but a full-fledged creature of the night. As Yelchin uncovers Farrell's true identity (with some unfortunate consequences for Mintz-Plasse; no good deed goes unpunished), he turns to magician and self-proclaimed vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for his help in vanquishing the monster hiding in plain sight.

Here's the rub: compared to the conventions of current vamp media, Farrell is a vicious throwback to the days when vampires were mostly interested in humans as a source of food, not as sources of sympathy and understanding. He's essentially a superpowered, amoral eating machine. Mintz-Plasse aptly compares him to "the shark from
Jaws." So praise be to Fright Night for reviving the venal, irredeemable creature that lives to scare the shit out of us. Even when he's not (unconvincingly) pretending to be living flesh, Farrell gives a memorable performance that's several dozen degrees off center. He's a rather obvious villain, but one so cunning and creepily mannered that he projects a real and constant menace.

Fright Night definitely needs all the unpredictability that Farrell brings, as it's nearly squandered when the film veers in his direction far too quickly. The script was penned by Marti Noxon, a veteran of TV's Buffy and Angel, which may explain its arrhythmic pacing and textbook stalling tactics. Though the rapidly escalating conflict gives us a few nifty scenes, it also threatens to turn the movie into a banal exercise in horror movie endurance (let's just say that people still haven't learned not to go upstairs when cornered). But what Noxon lacks in structure she makes up for in witty, quotable dialogue. She has a perfect mouthpiece in the dryly exasperated Tennant, who reinvigorates the film when he wrests it away from Farrell in the third act.

Fright Night is presented in 3D, but it shouldn't be. The audience must endure a bombardment of hokey visual gags, an annoyance compounded by the generally poor quality of the movie's CGI (it draws very unkind G.I. Joe comparisons). Thankfully, the story and performances are sturdy enough to stand on their own. The same goes for the film as a remake (though I confess that I haven't seen the 1985 original), a bloody fun time at the movies and a nasty rejoinder to all those who would try to defang Dracula's descendants.

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