August 30, 2011

Movie Review: Fright Night (2011)

Way back in 1985, even before my love for movies took hold, the theaters were graced with a film that brought humor and horror together in an entertaining melange that provided thrills while also paying homage to horror cinema and offering a deconstruction of the genre it clearly loved. Fright Night predates the big daddy of horror deconstruction, Scream, by more than a decade and contains a quality that still holds up today. The tale is now being returned to the screen and may be ultimately unnecessary, it is no less entertaining.

I do not want o get into a comparison of the two, I am sure there are writers much better than I who are better suited to that ask. Suffice to say, there are differences between the two films, not always for the better, but enough to help this new take stand on it's own and allow it to be more than a mere copy of the original. For example, the Peter Vincent role is considerably different here and I was probably a good choice not try and duplicate what Roddy McDowall did some 26-years ago.

At the center of he story is Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), he is a reformed geek who has turned in his geek card for a more favorable status among his peers and for his girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). This includes turning his back on the unapologetically geeky Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). He lives with his single mom (Toni Collette) in a remote suburb of Las Vegas, a town of perfectly rowed, closely built homes which play host to a number of Vegas night dwellers.

All is going well until Ed points out to Charley that some of their classmates have not been coming to school. Charley shrugs it off, but suspicions creep in when he meets Jerry (Colin Farrell), the dark and brooding new neighbor. Charley knows that something is up, and when the unthinkable seems to be the truth... Well, what is a teen to do?

This brings in this movies version of Peter Vincent. Instead of a late night horror movie host, he is a Las Vegas illusionist played like a cross between Criss Angel and Russell Brand by David Tennant. He is an intriguing egotist who would seem to be a charlatan but the vampire related artifacts in his home seem to indicate something different.

In any case, Vincent plays second fiddle to Charley as they set off to showdown with Jerry. This while also trying to convince mom and Amy that the hunky neighbor wants them as a midnight snack. It all builds to the inevitable confrontation between Charley and Jerry (that is a terrible vampire name!). There are some jokes and bloodshed along the way and vampires who act properly when exposed to the sun.

There really isn't a heck of a lot different from the original version, some motivations are changed and different guys fulfill slightly modified roles, but the gist is still the same. What makes I work is some solid direction from Craig Gillespie, making his big screen feature debut. He shows a talent for pacing,keeping everything moving but also knowing how to stage a sequence to build maximum tension. There are two scenes in particular I am thinking of but do not want to give them away.

It is no all about the pacing, the writing is pretty good too. There is definite room for improvement and stronger character development, but what is there is pretty good, helped along by the performances. Anton Yelchin is turning into a versatile young actor who is able to play the precarious line between awkwardly cool high schooler and his geek past. He brings a stability to the film and someone who you can identify with, his conflict both external and internal. On the other hand, Colin Farrell plays that dangerous, smoldering neighbor perfectly. The ladies swoon and the guys are instantly on edge. It is not exactly a subtle performance, but I is effective and creepy.

The supporting cast also does a fine job. David Tennant may be a caricature, but the guy is funny and I think there may be a little more to his character than meets the eye, the self involved persona may be a bit of a defense mechanism. Toni Collette is always solid and her mother is no exception. Imogen Poots is fine as the girlfriend, nothing special here. Then there is Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed, he is a not underused, but very entertaining when he is on the screen.

I like this movie. It is no classic, but it is solid, steady and entertaining from a few different angles. It does not trample the original and would seem happy to coexist with it. It is different enough to and on its own, and does not try to cater to the burgeoning Twilight crowd, even taking a swipe at the franchise. Simply put, Fright Night is a fun time at the theaters, laughs and scares in equal measures and a solid cast to make sure you don't get bored.


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