Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fright Night

I promise this review will contain no ranting about the Twilight movies. In fact, from this point forward, Twilight will only be mentioned a total of three (3) times - including that previous one. Ok, glad that's out of the way.

The original Fright Night came out in 1985 and was a surprise box office hit - given horror movies don't frequently have a reputation as blockbusters. While its sequel, Fright Night 2, was far less well-received (its subsequent achievement of cult-film status notwithstanding) the real gem of the Fright Night movies turns out - oddly enough - to be this summer's remake.

The plot is pretty simple, and even borders on derivative. If you've seen the trailers it's no spoiler to say that the story revolves around a high-school teen (played surprisingly well by Anton Yelchin) who lives in a remote suburb near Las Vegas. His new neighbor Jerry (Hollywood bad boy Colin Farrell) seems a little strange. And as with all cases of strange neighbors, he turns out to be a vampire; don'tcha just hate it when that happens? From there, the movie gleefully - if somewhat predictably - makes its way through a veritable treasure trove of laughs and scares to a satisfying conclusion.


Again, it's a pretty basic premise - even if the movie hadn't been a remake. And with the resurgence of vampires in popular culture via True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Twilight (reference #2), Fright Night stood an awfully good chance of getting lost in the white noise of pop culture.

What facilitated the exact opposite is definitely rooted in the film's performances. Yelchin is a bit of a step away from the traditional "jock" type leads that often populate movies of this breed. He's also not fully on track with the emergence of the more nerdy, awkward characters that have become a staple of the last 5 years or so - lookin' at you two, Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg! Yelchin falls somewhere in the middle, and consequently portrays a character who has an awkward streak but is confident enough to carry the film forward with a straight face. And while realism isn't the name of the game in a movie like this, Yelchin's portrayal is a more accurate representation of the high school every-guy and I think this leads to him being both more likeable and more relate-able.

Playing the menacing vampire neighbor to perfection, Colin Farrell is both sufficiently intimidating and seductive. It's really hard not to like him, even as he's gruesomely picking off characters left and right. Along with Yelchin and generally the rest of the cast, Farrell also brilliantly manages to play his character with just enough camp to make the movie as much fun as it is frightening.

David Tennant, who plays the "vampire" "slayer" (break in quotations intentional) Peter Vincent, provides the majority of the comic relief in the movie and is yet another solid score for the casting director. Tennant's presence and comedic abilities could have very easily derailed the movie and turned it into a wacky, one-liner exercise in silliness. But his performance adds just enough humor to give Fright Night a very well-rounded feel.

As evidenced through the casting and direction, Fright Night is a movie that walks a thin line between excess goofiness and excess gore. Several opportunities arose during the course of the film where you could almost feel the movie just about to lose its balance between the two. But it never does, and the result is a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, while taking itself just seriously enough.

Ramin Djawadi's score is pitch perfect, utilizing the back-and-forth string motifs that characterize most horror films and evoke classics like Jaws. The occasional presence of an organ also harkens back to earlier horror film scores while blending with elements of more modern orchestral arrangement. Like the film itself, the score confidently samples elements of different periods and genres and the resulting music is as finely tuned and balanced as the movie.


I saw the film in 2D, and I'll confess that had I known what I was going in for I would have paid the extra for the 3D. A handful of gags and moments bend the fourth wall (without completely breaking it) in favor of exploiting the 3D technology and without the 3D experience they feel just a bit out of place. The least subtle of these examples occurs during a chase scene in which the camera remains in a car with the movie's protagonists as Jerry attempts to run them off the road in his truck. As the camera pans around and the collision of vehicles sprays glass at the screen, I felt for a brief moment as if I were on a 3D ride at Disney World or Universal Studios. In 3D, the experience might have been a bit more thrilling and a bit less distracting - but such as it was the scene still didn't fully halt the film's momentum.

Toni Collette's performance as Yelchin's Mom just barely misses the mark, and in just a handful of scenes it almost feels like she's flirting with him. It's not distracting enough to ruin the movie at all, but whenever she's not screaming and fleeing in terror she has a strange grin on her face that just won't...can't...won't go away.


Fright Night plays out like a walk across a very high tight rope. And when the movie finally makes it to the other side without any slips or falls, the result is a very satisfying movie-going experience. I've never had so much plain ol' fun in a horror movie, as usually I enjoy horror movies purely as visceral thrills. Fright Night will probably draw its fair share of comparisons to Zombieland, insomuch that both films blended horror and comedy elements for a memorable movie-going experience. Fright Night resides a bit more on the horror end of the spectrum than Z-Land but for the effects it was trying to achieve that works to its advantage.

My personal feelings towards the recent vampire trends aside, Fright Night does a good deal to bring vampire movies "back." As Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays Yelchin's former best friend Eddie) states early in the film "He's a real monster and he's not brooding or lovesick or noble. He's the f***ing shark from Jaws!" As such, he obviously doesn't sparkle (we'll call that reference #3, shall we?), and not that I expected him to - but it was definitely fun to see a vampire that didn't show up in mirrors or on video cameras and couldn't come inside unless he was invited.

The movie also scores MAJOR points as a horror movie on account of the fact that the main characters don't end up doing the stupid things that lead to most horror movie deaths. I hesitate to use the word "realistic" but it's very refreshing to watch a set of characters NOT forget to pick up those weapons and NOT always "go investigate" every suspicious noise. (Even whey they do, they're relatively smart about the way they go about that, as well!)

Fright Night is everything a solid remake should be, referencing just enough of the original (Chris Sarandon, who played the villain in the original, makes a brief appearance) while exploring new territory of its own as well. Moreover it's a solid horror movie and a solid comedy, in its own way. I'll definitely be getting this when it comes out on DVD. Scratch that, BluRay. And I'll probably go see it again in 3D, because I don't remember having that much fun sitting by myself in a movie theater in a long time.

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