Monday, August 22, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Might as well get used to it—remakes, like CGI effects, Photoshopped movie posters, and Michael Bay movies, are here to stay. Original ideas are obviously preferred, but in the meantime, you can always bet that some studio or other is in the process of reimagining Your Cherished Childhood Favourite Movie this very minute. Once you’ve accepted that fact, it makes it a lot easier to dole out praise when a remake is done right, like Craig Gillespie’s slick, witty Fright Night. The 2011 model retains the basic setup and tongue-in-cheek flavour of Tom Holland’s 1985 original (see my review here), while adding enough of its own flourishes to justify its existence.

This time out, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives in a prefab suburb of Las Vegas, where he begins to suspect that his buff douche of a neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is a bloodsucker. At first, Charley’s too busy having a girlfriend (Imogen Poots—think Scarlett Johansson’s little sister) for the first time in his life to listen to the theories of his cast-aside nerd pal Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) when a surprising number of neighbours and classmates start disappearing. However, it’s not long before Charley is convinced that Jerry is a vampire, and his only recourse is to try and recruit Vegas-based occult stage performer Peter Vincent (former Doctor Who David Tennant) to help him slay his quite literal neighbour from hell.

Written by Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Marti Noxon, the new Fright Night is most definitely a post-Buffy vamp spin, with lots of rapid banter and modern flair. Setting the film just outside Las Vegas is an inspired touch—Jerry has his pick of a mostly-transient population that sleeps all day and is looking to party after sundown. Changing the character of Peter Vincent from a late-night horror host to a Vegas entertainer seemed like an awkward fit at first, but David Tennant sells it well, crossbreeding Criss Angel with Russell Brand for a refreshingly foulmouthed performance. Tennant’s Vincent is largely absent from much of the film’s advertising, but that’s a good thing—it’s better to discover the unexpected layers of this character within the movie rather than in a trailer. Anton Yelchin is a solid fit as Charley, bringing a lot more depth and personality to a character that was pretty one-dimensional in the 1985 original (sorry, William Ragsdale—not your fault, but the original Charley was a bit under-written). The real star of the show, though, is Colin Farrell, who, like Chris Sarandon before him, looks to be having the time of his life playing Jerry Dandridge. Farrell’s vamp is just as much at home lounging in an easy chair, drinking a beer and watching one of the Real Housewives spinoffs, as he is when he’s tearing the throat out of a stripper. He and Yelchin have a great antagonistic chemistry too—one highlight is an early scene where Jerry hovers, uninvited, outside the door to Charley’s kitchen, trying to tease out an invite that is not forthcoming any time soon. Craig Gillespie’s sure-footed direction maintains the suspense—especially in a claustrophobic night attack on the Brewster family minivan that recalls both Children Of Men and Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds—while maintaining the just-shy-of-comedic tone that this new Fright Night shares with its predecessor. And, even though the whole 3D gimmick is beyond tired, the effect works quite well in a number of scenes, especially when vampires explode in a shower of cindery sparks. If all remakes were pulled off this effectively…well, I’m sure I’d still complain about it (the trailer for the 2011 redo of The Thing had me gnashing my teeth before the movie started), but maybe a bit less so. In any event, though, Fright Night is that rare horror remake that may not be necessarily better than the original, but it still definitely doesn’t suck.

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