by Michael Koresky and Adam Nayman
Forget all the majestically splashed buckets of gore. Forget the unexpectedly rousing highway car chase, in which a vampire proves to be as malleably invincible as a T-1000. Put aside for now even those jarring ghastly vampire grins as mile-wide as Dolly Partonâ€™s new mouth. What Craig Gillespieâ€™s Fright Night remake really excels at is exposition. Early in the film, high-school nerd Ed (Hollywood geek-king Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad) is explaining to his former best buddy, and the filmâ€™s protagonist, Charley (Anton Yelchin), that he strongly suspects Charley is living next door to a vampireâ€”and not a vampire in the sparkly 2011 sense, but of the classical, Bram Stoker variety. But Gillespie stages the long, dialogue-heavy sequence not in, say, the school cafeteria or an overly set-designed teen bedroom, but rather in the windy interiors of a Las Vegas suburban tract home at dusk, filmed in magnificently murky gray-blue by Javier Agguiresarobe (yes, he shot some Twilight movies, but also last decadeâ€™s best-in-show ghost story The Others). As Ed and Charley creep through the echoey rooms, we glean nearly all the filmâ€™s pertinent information, both in terms of the new cold-blooded threat on the block and these two kidsâ€™ foundering friendship: Charley was also once a role-playing dorkus maximus and has left Ed behind since he emerged from acres of acne to baby-handsome borderline coolness (Mintz-Plasseâ€™s well-practiced lisping impudence and Yelchinâ€™s fragile stabs at indifference are perfectly played here).
Once its ground rules are set, Fright Night is a bat out of hell, plowing ahead with bloody abandon. Not remembering the original Tom Holland film particularly well, I canâ€™t say whether its structure is borrowed; regardless, Gillespieâ€™s version, though clearly a product geared more toward attention-deficit millennials than lovers of traditional creepshows, is often a hoot. And letâ€™s give credit where itâ€™s due: Colin Farrell, first appearing on his front lawn in a seductive glower and matching black tank-top, is a vamp of the highest orderâ€”the role gives the Irishman a chance to strut his sundry stuff; his sexy swagger and comic chops are both on full view. But this is also where the filmâ€™s swift narrative economy becomes a liability: if only Gillespie allowed any space for Farrell to loosen up. Unfortunately Fright Night only has room for one real eccentric, its official comic side character, David Tennantâ€™s seemingly phony baloney vampire hunter Vegas act Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowallâ€™s late-night horror host in the original). Yet once Fright Night devolves into a bombastic CGI-spewing bloodbath, this Criss Angelâ€“esque Vincent is revealed as perhaps the filmâ€™s true presiding spirit, the patron saint of excess. â€”MK
â€śThe patron saint of excessâ€ťâ€”I like that, and I liked Tennant, whose day-job as Dr. Who occasions a much milder strain of eccentricity. The conception of Peter Vincent as a premature show business wreckâ€”instead of a doddering dear Ă la Roddy McDowallâ€”is one of Fright Night 2.0â€™s best ideas, since it makes the story less about nostalgia: instead of wrestling with an affection for old horror movies, the characters here spend their time and brainpower thinking how to best extricate themselves from a lean, ruthless, present-tense version. I didnâ€™t mind the filmâ€™s â€śswift narrative economy,â€ť as it seemed an improvement on both the plodding innocuousness of so many â€śyouthâ€ť-oriented genre pictures (hereâ€™s looking at you, Twilight) or the sadistic distension of Saw 9, Final Destination 12, et al., movies that are only invested in their retch-inducing money shots. Fright Night is surely gory and grotesque (the self-division of Mintz-Plasseâ€™s character is visualized nicely via a botched, but still 70-percent effective, decapitation), but itâ€™s not cruel: It keeps the narrative stakes (sorry) high without overstepping its ambitions as a pleasantly feckless jolt-dispensing machine.
As for Farrell, he may not have a lot of space to stretch out but that doesnâ€™t keep him from acting like he owns the place, and the film, and he does. Iâ€™m a great fan of this failed leading manâ€™s recent character work (he was better than Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and fully inhabited his combed-over-creep cameo in Horrible Bosses) and he gives Jerry a sly, watchful bearing thatâ€™s just right for a career vampire whoâ€™s toughed it out over decades (centuries?) of suspicious neighbors and dwindling food supply. Chris Sarandon played Jerry with more magisterial creepiness (befitting the originalâ€™s Hammer Horror leanings), but Farrell opts for self-satisfied sleaze, simultaneously parodying the romantic qualities ascribed to pop-culture vampires from Lestat to Angel and sending up his own image as an unrepentant Hollywood lothario. The scene where Jerry tries to get himself invited in to Charleyâ€™s kitchen for a six pack is tenser and funnier than it should be considering that the film has barely even gotten started and we know thereâ€™s no way anything significant is going to happen; as Jerry realizes that the kid is on to him, Farrell shifts from ingratiation to intimidation in a way that suggests the character is amusing himself to make up for the fact that heâ€™s going to have to wait a little while to get what he really wants. Iâ€™m not crazy about the way Fright Night descends into loud, blurry, 3-D-battered set pieces (those pop-out close-ups of Jerryâ€™s feral vampire face are some seriously sub-spook-house rollercoaster shit). But when was the last time that a horror filmâ€”franchise entry, prequel, remake, or otherâ€”also contained one of the most accomplished comic performances of the year? â€”AN