Fright Night (2011)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
When held up against other Hollywood remakes, Fright Night isn’t nearly as terrible as most, which means it will probably get a huge pass from a lot of horror fans and critics. But just because a genre film defies expectations doesn’t automatically make it successful, and this latest retread is still another painfully average product of "by committee" moviemaking.
This Fright Night shifts the action to a desert suburb on the outskirts of Vegas, where geeky Charlie Brewster (Yelchin) quickly discovers his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Farrel) is a homicidal vampire. Just as in the original, several cat-and-mouse games ensue, and poor Charlie is left all alone with no one to help him from the fanged menace lurking outside. Since the age of the late night TV horror host has long since passed, Brewster has to turn to Goth stage magician Peter Vincent (Tennant) for help to wage war on his unwanted neighbor.
At best this modern update is a mildly amusing time killer, but it still feels completely unwarranted. The main thing that’s missing is the fun character dynamics and relationships that were the heart of Tom Holland’s original. Instead this version showcases character actors doing exactly what’s expected of them: Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin is doing his paranoid schtick, Toni Collette steps back into another thankless single mother role, and Christopher Mitz-Plasse brings us the geeky “McLovin” version of Evil Ed in his brief appearance. The protagonists are likable enough and do their best with the material, but these characters don’t leave much of a lasting impact in the end.
As we all know, horror movies live or die based on their villain, and Colin Farrel’s lame turn as Jerry Dandridge is what really does in the new Fright Night. Posing and snarling like an evil GAP model, his one-note performance is a bloody bore and better suited for a Twilight villain. It’s all the more sour when compared to Chris Sarandon’s charismatic performance in the original.
It’s no surprise that he’s completely eclipsed by former Doctor Who David Tennant, who steals the show as Peter Vincent (too bad you wouldn’t know he was in the film thanks to Dreamworks’ xenophobic marketing department). His egomaniacal take on Vincent is a clear send-up of Criss Angel and similar douchebags, but he still manages to retain the British wit and charm of Roddy McDowall. It’s too bad there isn’t more of him. Sadly, Tennant is not only underused, but a half-ass back story and hackneyed twist completely betray his character in the third act. If this film is successful enough to warrant a sequel, here’s hoping they ditch the rest of the cast and let him carry a movie all by himself.
Horror and comedy are a delicate balance, and Fright Night teeters much more toward the latter. What we’re left with is a movie that’s fun and dull in equal amounts and comes off like a lesser Judd Apatow comedy crammed with a lot of jump scares. There’s the occasional chuckle and bloody kill along with a few clever nods to the original, but it’s strung together by typical CG-laden action sequences and stock twists.
Furthermore, the decision to set this film in the nondescript Vegas suburbs makes for incredibly flat visuals and set pieces. Since much of the action takes place in empty modern day houses, there’s not much in the way of atmosphere, which makes the theatrical experience about as visually appealing as watching "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in 3D.
Remember how the original ended with a wild fight through a vintage mansion? Well, this version literally ends on a mound of dirt with an unambitious final battle that comes off more like a deleted scene from an Underworld movie.
When all is said and done, Fright Night isn’t a terrible remake; it’s just a mediocre and ultimately pointless one. Like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dawn, it pays enough respect to keep the fans from screaming “blasphemy”, only this time the results aren’t nearly as spectacular. While Holland’s original still holds up as a timeless love letter to the genre, the remake is content to just follow trends.
Not cool, Brewster.
2 1/2 out of 5