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Non-Review Review: Fright Night

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

Fright Night is great fun. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s one that’s produced with enough skill and charm that it feels well worth your time. A superb cast and confident direction make the film feel like a breeze, even with a slightly muddled middle section and some strange plotting and pacing. It’s also one of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen since Tron: Legacy, and I genuinely don’t say that lightly. All of adds up to a movie well worth sinking your teeth into.

Put the Fright one on...

The plot of the movie is remarkably straight-forward, even to those unfamiliar with the original eighties film. Hunky Colin Farrell moves into a small suburban Los Vegas community, and nerdy Christopher Mintz-Plasse begins to suspect that the handy man might be a vampire, preying on the local population. It’s not an outrageously original idea, and the movie deserves credit for being remarkably up-front with its audience.

Part of the fun comes from the fact that t doesn’t try to generate suspense by trying to trick us into believing there’s nothing wrong with “Jerry the Vampire” or that the kids might be mistaken. In fact, it’s quite refreshing when Farrell inevitably shows up at a neighbour’s doorstep to complain that their kid has been harassing him (as seems to be a mandatory scene in films like this), and the parent actually listens to their own child for once. Fright Night is acutely aware of all the conventions of these classic teen horror movie, and that makes everything just a little bit more fun than it might otherwise be.

A Fright to Remember...

It also helps that the film walks the live quite well between “hip self-aware cynical exploration of the vampire subgenre” and “classic trashy horror” remarkably well. One teen vampire hunter is offended that an old friend could believe that he reads Twilight, while blood is splashed around like the local DIY store was having a fire sale on red paint. There are scenes that make you jump, and scenes that make you laugh – sometimes at the exact same instant. It’s never so cynical that you’re divorced from the central plot, but never so straight-forward that you’re too concerned about the rather hackneyed set-up.

I think the movie works especially well because of the way it handles vampires – or the idea of vampirism. It’s very much focused on the idea of vampires as a rejection of social norms, dating back to Bram Stoker’s Draculaas a response to the oppressive prudishness of Victorian sexuality. Here, the vampire reflects the social outcasts – the nerds and the geeks. It’s a nice acknowledgment of why vampires have always worked so well as monsters, and one which betrays a far deeper understanding of the creatures than most modern iterations.

Farrell's been on fire of late...

That said, the film starts strong and ends strong, but it does get lost a little bit in the middle. There’s a whole section between the moment where the kids come to suspect that Jerry might be a vampire and the epic final confrontation – it seems like the movie is trying to find its way, and sort of stumbles a bit. This involves a rather surreal car chase in the middle of the desert and an entertaining showdown in a Los Vegas penthouse, a collection of scenes that work well on their own, but seem a little muddled in the context of the film.

Of course, you don’t really mind, if only because the cast is having so much fun. It really genuinely seems like everybody in the movie decided that they were going to enjoy themselves as much as humanly possible. The two stand-outs are Colin Farrell as Jerry and David Tennant as Peter Vincent. Farrell’s Jerry is a self-aware vampire who seems to get how incredibly creepy all the standard vampire tropes he uses might be. He’s aware of how uncomfortable others feel around him, and how his occasionally strange turns of phrase can make people uneasy. There’s a lovely moment where, after a midnight snack, Jerry greets his neighbours with a casual “Hi!” and a “How are you doing?”

Tennant's been doctoring his image...

Tennant has a bit of fun playing an R-rated character, making every instance of the “f-word” sound like a mini-event, as if freed from the burden of performing in family entertainment. His delivery style is as hyper-active and energetic as usual, but he takes a great deal of pleasure in playing a character fairly far removed from the one that made him famous. I hope that he does manage to find a niché in the States, if only because he has a wonderful skill for comedy and drama, as required.

This says nothing of the rest of the cast. Anton Yelchin plays the lead, and has established himself as a talent to watch in the past couple of years – he’s remarkably solid here, especially playing a relatively grounded character surrounded by a cast of scene-stealing supporting actors. I am always glad to see more of Imogen Poots, who was so wonderful in 28 Weeks Laterand has a great charm (and an effective American accent) here. And Toni Collette is welcome in just about any film she sees fit to appear in.

There's going to be bloody murder...

I’d be remiss if I finished the review without taking a moment to comment on the 3D. I’ll admit that the 3D is a gimmick, especially in this case, but it’s actually one of the better examples I have ever seen. It uses the 3D for all manner of cheesy effects, from blood flowing rather freely to a stake coming right at you to a discarded crucifix. It’s cheesy, but it reflects the fact that 3D is cheesy. What’s the point in using it if you aren’t going to exploit it in such a fashion? Again, the movie gains points for honesty, but also for execution. There’s a wonderful sense of depth afforded by the use of 3D, even in scenes where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. There is a catch though. The film is, as the name implies, set heavily at night, so there are a lot of dark scenes that I worry might have looked better in 2D. Still, I could always make out what was going on, and it’s the first time I’ve felt 3D was justified in quite some time.

Fright Night is an entertaining little film, and one well worth your time. It’s not an instant classic, but it’s an enjoyable pulpy vampire movie. And, to be frank, it has been a while since we’ve had an enjoyably pulpy vampire film.

5 Responses

  1. I was tossed as to whether I should bother with this remake. I still divided but perhaps you’ve given a slight advantage towards a cheap matinee ticket.

    • Definitely give it a go. It’s not going be a standout of a blockbuster season that gave us Super 8, Thor, X-Men and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it’s genuinely good fun, and I think the fun that the cast and crew had making it is definitely contagious.

  2. I was on the fence like Stu, Tennant was a huge draw for me, but that draw was overshadowed by how much I dislike Mintz-Plasse.

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