Review: Fright Night (2011)

Film review
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots
Release date 2 September 2011 (UK)


Teenager Charley Brewster (Yelchin) is initially sceptical about his old friend Ed’s (Mintz-Plasse) claims that a vampire is responsible for a string of recent disappearances. But it’s not long before he comes to suspect his charming neighbour Jerry (Farrell) is a bona fide bloodsucker. He tracks down semi-famous Vegas magician Peter Vincent (Tennant) for advice about slaying…

Tom Holland’s likable 1985 fang-fest Fright Night represents everything great about the decade’s run of colourful horror-comedies. Yet it’s not quite up there in the canon of untouchable terror classics, making Craig Gillespie’s remake a less risky prospect than, say, the much-derided reboots of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.

Nevertheless, the opening scenes suggest we’re in for another bland makeover. The obligatory pre-title shock is standard monster-under-the-bed stuff that could have been ripped from a lesser episode of Supernatural, while there’s a paucity of genuine laughs or scares in the first 20 minutes. Too much of the action revolves around characters mooching around dimly lit rooms and streets, not helped by the mostly pointless 3D, which often makes it difficult to decipher exactly what’s going on in the gloom.

Thankfully, things improve dramatically once Charley’s believably charming/sinister fanged neighbour reveals his true colours. Jerry may not boast a traditional bloodsucker moniker (“That is a terrible vampire name!”), but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. One tense sequence sees Charley break into Jerry’s house in an attempt to rescue a foxy older neighbour he suspects Jerry of snatching – culminating in a wickedly amusing shock. Another set-piece sees Jerry use ingenious methods to overcome Charley’s refusal to “let the right one in”. And once David Tennant’s egotistical, would-be sexbomb magician is introduced – part David Blaine, part Russell Brand – the laughs come thick and fast, as the idiotic illusionist is forced to turn into the hero he’s pretended to be for so long.

Fright Night may be a far bigger movie than Craig Gillespie’s last film, Lars and the Real Girl, but his experience filming that smaller character piece pays dividends here. Tennant steals most of his scenes in the film’s showiest role, but the reappearance of Christopher Mintz-Plasse halfway through is the source of some great comedy (OK, so he’s essentially McLovin’ in every film he appears in, but what’s wrong with that? He’ll have plenty of time for range in years to come). Colin Farrell is often at his best when playing smarmy, sleazy or sinister (even in lesser fare, such as the recent, patchy Horrible Bosses), and he’s perfect as the charming but heartless villain. And Yelchin is a sympathetic hero, an inbetweener torn between a geeky, roleplay-loving past and a desire to be popular.

Smartly, Gillespie doesn’t simply attempt replicate Holland’s film in either style or narrative, and instead creates a modern mix of laughs and scares that should appeal to newcomers and fans of the original alike. Though it’s fair to say the latter are likely to wince at the often underwhelming CGI, which looks a good deal less impressive than the practical effects of 25 years ago. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 7/10
After a slow start, this turns into a fright night to remember. A good omen for Gillespie’s take on Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

 

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