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I hated director Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night, out today, but not for the reasons you might think. The remake is pure entertainment, a fun and funny vampire story that is as faithful to its source as it is something entirely new and great. And so I hate it, because kick-ass remakes like this will only encourage Hollywood to remake more. Would that they could all be like Fright Night.
They’re not, though, and Fright Night is all the more special as a result. The story centers on a sleepy, sun-baked Las Vegas suburb that’s become the latest nesting ground for a vampire named Jerry, played by Colin Farrell. Jerry’s home neighbors that of a single mom and her son Charley (Anton Yelchin), a recovering nerd who’s now hanging with the cool kids in high school. Charley doesn’t initially believe his old nerd-friend Ed’s (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tales of a local bloodsucker, but it’s not long before he’s forced to confront the reality of the situation.
The story fits very well into its newly modern setting, a fact that can be credited just as much to the strength of Marti Noxon’s script as it can to the timelessness of this kind of “monster next door” story. The writing is just straight clever, with pointed comments about things like crappy cellphone reception in the desert and situations that fit just as well into the 21st century as they did into the 20th, giving everything a fresh, modern feel.
The stars do their work well, too, although Farrell is a standout. He’s an actor who hasn’t always been in the best movies, but he himself always brings his A-game. His “Jerry the vampire” almost comes off as a sympathetic character early, like someone who isn’t necessarily bad, just misunderstood. That isn’t the case, of course; it’s all just part of his vampiric charm. You could say that Farrell-as-Jerry is actually somewhat … bewitching.
He very much overshadows Yelchin, who gets just as much (if not more) screen time, in their scenes together, but the young Star Trek actor rises to the challenge of playing a leading man. He’s still young, and he lacks the charisma of older and more accomplished stars, but Yelchin eases naturally into his role all the same. Compliments as well to Imogen Poots, who plays Charley’s girlfriend Amy. She doesn’t get to really stretch herself until later in the movie, but her “girl next door” charm is immediately appealing.
Let’s also not forget David Tennant, who embraces his inner Russell Brand for the role of vampire enthusiast and Vegas sideshow star Peter Vincent. The Doctor Who veteran is the beating heart of this movie’s funniest moments, and it’s no surprise that the pace picks up considerably when his character becomes more of a focus in the latter half of the film.
Also, to the Whovians out there: Tennant goes shirtless more than once in the DreamWorks film. That seemed to delight quite a few people at my screening.
The strangest piece of the Fright Night remake puzzle is also the one responsible for bringing everything together. Director Craig Gillespie was an odd choice to helm the movie, a relative newcomer who made his directorial debut in 2007 with the one-two punch of Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock. He’s also done some TV work, notably for The United States of Tara, but this is his first crack at horror.
In fairness, Fright Night is more horror-comedy than anything, and Gillespie has already proved himself to be adept at mixing and matching genres. The comedy bits of course work, as anyone familiar with his resume might guess they would. The scarier scenes, however, are the real surprise.
Gillespie demonstrates a talent for building tension, starting from the very first moment we see characters on the screen. The prologue sequence that appears before the title card is quick and brutal, with Jerry (who we don’t get to see) doing his vampy thing to a family of three. You’ve seen moments like it in other movies, and yet you’ll still find yourself inching forward in your seat as the scene’s climax draws nearer.
Count Fright Night as a big win for going to the movies this weekend. Part of me doesn’t want it to do well, in the hopes that we might see fewer remakes moving forward. It’s a very small part though. When you’re talking about a movie as entertaining as this one is, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a remake, reboot, rehash, sequel, prequel, side-quel or completely original work — a good time is still a good time no matter what label is assigned to it.