REVIEW: Fright Night Has an Upscale Cast, But Doesn't Offer Enough Other Reasons to Exist
If you come in cold, as I did, to the remake of the 1985 vampire movie Fright Night, your hopes for what begins as an ordinary slasher (bloody prologue followed by cleansing, suburban daylight) improve with every new face on the screen. First there is Anton Yelchin, the Russian-born young actor last seen in The Beaver. Yelchin's tuning fork physique and apparitional beauty are an inspired choice for a horror hero; he projects a vulnerability that made Alpha Dog -- a junky 2006 fratricide thriller -- almost unbearable to watch. Then in comes Toni Collette as Yelchin's sturdy single mom, Imogen Poots as his girlfriend, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as his former best friend. The alpha creep who moves in next door? That would be Colin Farrell and his magnificent, church-steeple eyebrows. Looks like somebody's not messing around.
That somebody is Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie, who worked from a revivified script by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer and producer Marti Noxon. And though the will was clearly there to reinvent an '80s classic in style, Fright Night never quite lives up to the promise of its upscale cast. The setup is intact, but Noxon has torqued the angles slightly by moving the story to Las Vegas, where Charley Brewster (Yelchin) is a high school student who has made a concerted effort to shed his nerd trappings in order to pull quality birds like Amy (Poots) and join "the real world." Among those trappings were Ed (Mintz-Plasse) and Ben (Reid Ewing), the latter being the poor lad scrambling for his life as the film begins. Despite the fact that Ben and his whole family have been murdered, Ed is the only one paying keen enough attention to notice their absence. As amateur vampire-philes, Ed and Ben had been stalking that neighbor, Jerry (Farrell), around the neighborhood, and the wave of a cell phone camera confirmed their suspicion that he's an invisible mother-effing bloodsucker. Ed is certain that Jerry is behind his friend's disappearance, and blackmails Charley into helping him with the threat of making their old iPhone follies -- costumes and fantasy play are involved -- public.
With the exception of Mintz-Plasse's pitch-perfect encounter with Farrell's undead predator, the first half of Fright Night coasts pretty comfortably on the novelty of watching rising and established stars attending the Hollywood version of summer camp. Fright Night glides into its first climax with some funny touches (horror binds like lock-picking are solved with an app; Jerry likes to relax with a Real Housewives episode after tapping a pretty woman's neck) but without building much structure or suspense. (The use of 3-D is notable mainly for the way it muddies an already muted palette.) Convinced that Jerry is what Ed said he is, Charley reaches out to Kriss Angel/Russell Brand hybrid Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who is starring in a "Fright Night" Vegas stage show. But Vincent has grown soft, and has no interest in seeing if his obsession with all things Transylvanian has prepared him for the real thing.
Gillespie only really hits his stride during the second climax, where the classic vampire themes -- sex and repression -- come into play. (Potential spoilers ahead.) Charley and Amy have been dancing around the issue of sex; once they're both ready, the consummation is thwarted, literally and then figuratively, by Jerry. "She looks to be liking it," a bouncer says to Charley as he spots his girl in mid-ravishment. He's heard something like this before. The fall of Amy gives the ultimate showdown the film's only genuine source of frisson. Proving that the same old purity allegory has still got some juice after all this time and all those toothsome penetrations may be reason enough for Fright Night to exist. It's too bad there aren't a couple more.