Monday, August 22, 2011

Fright Night (2011) - Theatrical Review


Release Date: August 19, 2011

I have begun to really dislike remakes. I don't mean to sound like there isn't a place for them but more like it all just feels like filler to me any more. Who looks back at the original 1985 film of Fright Night and says to themselves, "Hey, that really needs to be updated". I mean the original was good for what it was at the time it was released but did we really need a new version of it?

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 pm August 19, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr. 41 min.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios

Loves: Movies where a small group of people must fight against the odds
Likes: The original 1985 "Fright Night", David Tennant, Colin Farrel
Neutral: Remakes, Anton Yelchin, Chistopher Mintz-Plasse
Hates: Things that are unecessary
Cameo: Be on the look out for the original Jerry the vampire

So let's get the obvious questions out of the way first shall we? Yes, I have seen and like the original Fright Night. No, I don't think it was anything even resembling an amazing movie (I saw it the year it was released mind you). Yes, it was a fun little horror/comedy that did what it did well. No, I don't really give a shit that they remade it. Yes, there were certainly things that could be improved on with a remake. No, most of the changes made for the update were not for the best. No, I am not sad that I saw this movie. Yes, I was remarkably surprised at just how much this movie did NOT suck (pun very much intended). Here is the key question though...does the fact that this movie even exists matter in the least? Well, both yes and no on that one.

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is your basic every day high school kid who has just scored his very first real girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). While trying to hide all the more geekish aspects of his younger days by ditching his close friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), also know as "Evil", and hanging out with all the cool kids at school, Ed has been busy spying on Charley's new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrel). Ed is under the distinct impression that Jerry is a full fledged vampire who has been stalking their isolated little makeshift row of homes just outside Las Vegas Nevada and killing them. When their friends start to go missing Ed turns to Charley for help and although Charley doesn't believe his new neighbor is a creature of the night at first he begins to notice strange things going on next door that starts to make him have second thoughts on this whole vampire thing.

Something strange is afoot in their neighborhood.

I am going to try and not compare this too much to the original film but unfortunately that will happen from time to time because it is just kind of impossible for me to not put the two side by side for comparison. What I will try and do instead is give my impressions on how this movie evaded being the worst thing for vampires since Twilight. Now, the main thing that has changed from the original (here I go already) is the tone and this can be seen as both a good and a bad thing depending on what you are looking for in your late night vamp snacks. It has ditched the comedy and gone more with a more serious slice of the horror pie. That's not to say there is no humor in this at all, it does have a certain wit to it that works sometimes (with one character in particular) and other times kind of falls flat.

Going full horror isn't a bad thing here though because what director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Nixon have done is by fully embracing the genre's horror roots is make a movie that stands on its own two feet and becomes something almost completely different than the film it was based on. The structure from the first film is still intact (mostly) but there is an ever growing sense of dread that was lacking from that 1985 classic(?). Take the opening scene for instance which I can only imagine was done in a way to lull fans of the original like me into a sense of deja vu only to pull the rug out from under my feet when I least expected it. Both films open with a shot of a television showing the television show/magic show called Fright Night hosted by Peter Vincent (David Tennant). But as soon as the camera pans away from that television the film veers off on to a completely different path and becomes a completely different movie which is the best decision they could have made.

Jerry just wants a hug...

Let's face it, remakes work for people that have no recollection of the original films but for those of us out there that know (if not love in most cases) the source material the last thing we want is a shot for shot remake. In other words if you are going to go out of your way to remake something then add your own spin to it and make it your own and that is exactly what Gillispie did here. It is actually pretty impressive when you think about it because this new film follows the same basic premise of the original but it FEELS like a whole different movie. I think what helps with that is how the characters themselves were changed up which unfortunately doesn't work out in most of the cases here, especially with the two leads.

I have no real issue with Anton Yelchin as an actor but he just didn't fit this part for me. Perhaps it is because he never once seemed like a high school kid to me (his voice is way too mature sounding) or maybe it was a problem at the script level but I just never really fully embraced and identified with his character. It was easy to identify with the kid from the original because of the circumstances he was placed in where as here it felt a little too forced with how he gets involved with the spying on his neighbor part of the movie. I understand that they wanted a more heroic leading character (the original Charley was kind of a wimp) but I think they should have picked someone who could have pulled off the young kid filled with teen angst a little better than Yelchin did here.

When the sun goes down it is on.

So what was my problem with Farrel...? Nothing, in fact I thought he did a pretty bang up job as Jerry and really sunk his teeth into the role. The few scenes where he got to intimidate his prey before vamping out were pretty unsettling to the point of not knowing what the hell we was planning to do. Even the more quiet moments during a scene where Charley is sneaking around his house trying to avoid being detected was played perfectly by Farrel. My problem is that the character of Jerry the vampire is just kind of stupid when it is all said and done. My feelings aside for how much better the original handled Jerry, this is one of the most asinine vampires I have ever seen. Aren't vampires supposed to keep a low profile and avoid detection at all costs? Gone are all the suave and debonair traits of the old Jerry and instead we get a vampire who blows up houses? What the f**k?

OK, here comes a direct comparison for you. In the original film Jerry would call in some out of town hookers and feed on them. He did this to avoid being suspected of any LOCAL missing person cases. In the new film Jerry starts snacking on all his neighbors almost immediately even going to the extent of wiping out entire families. Don't you think someone might get a little suspicious after a while when ENTIRE FAMILIES GO MISSING and you live right down the street from them? Then there is how Jerry in the original handled Charley getting all up in his business after he realized he really was a vampire. He calmly charmed his way out of every situation and eventually into Charley's own home (remember, vampires cannot enter your house unless they are invited). In the new film Jerry tries one time...ONE TIME, to charm his way into Charley's home and when he fails he decides to blow the house up...WHAT!?! The Colin Farrel Jerry at this point has done everything in his power beyond just putting a sign outside his house saying, "Beware: Vampire".

Doctor Who the drunken vampire slayer...awesome!

Luckily those many missteps in logic are balanced out by the fine performance from Farrel and some surprisingly well executed action sequences strewn throughout. Everyone else is fairly alright in their roles, Toni Collette was wasted as Charley's mom in a kind of a throwaway character (she was in the original too) and Imogen Poots as Charley's girlfriend started out kind of annoying but ended up being pleasantly self reliant by the end. The two actors that really stood out for me though were Plasse as Charley's friend and Tennant as Peter Vincent. Plasse doesn't really veer too far off course from his usual personality quirks but he was in my opinion the only person that could have played this part. While he never once comes close to the awesomeness that was the kid that played Charley's friend in the original (loved that guy's voice) he does a good job at being the jilted friend who gets in over his head. Strangely I thought that if the filmmakers were to make this movie more like the original that Plasse would have made the perfect Charley Brewster.

Now the movie was entertaining for its first half but it truly begins to show signs of life once the drunken magician Peter Vincent is sought out by Charley for some advice on how to kill a real vampire. I have been a fan of David Tennant ever since his very first episode as Doctor Who. The man just instills so much energy and enthusiasm into every part he does. Casting him as Peter Vincent, who was played by Roddy McDowall  in the original film, is a good bit of inspired genius. If there were one thing I would say that didn't need to be fixed in this update it was the role of Vincent but now after seeing Tennant's take on the so called vampire slayer I can't imagine him not playing this part. He is also the only one true source of any comedy in the film, which was much needed by the time he comes into the picture. The back and forth between him and his girlfriend/co-host was probably the highlight of the film for me and when he does finally decide to help Charley the movie became a whole lot more interesting from that point forward.

Not very subtle there Jerry.

Once again though I am not entirely sure how I feel about the movie as a whole. I don't think it tramples on the memories I hold for the original film, I never did hold the 1985 film in any real high regard. But I also don't think it was overly necessary to remake it. Vampires are popular again though, at least the idea of vampires is popular, but does that mean we have to go back and revisit EVERY movie that dealt with the undead bloodsuckers? This new Fright Night isn't offensive in any way, shape or form. It is well made and actually has just the right amount of differences to it to let it stand as its own movie. Other than a couple of casting issues, character personality swaps and a slew of logic issues concerning Jerry's actions I found myself fairly entertaining by the movie overall. Will you like it? I suppose if you like your vampire movies bloody (it's rated R for a reason ya know) and fairly serious then you could do a lot worse than this. On the flip side of that though is whether or not it is good enough to warrant your time and money? Let me end by posing this question to you then...Are you a Twilight fan or a horror movie fan? If you are someone that prefers their vampires to glitter then you are better off staying away but if you like a decent mixture of sly wit and old school horror then I suggest you...




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