Title: Fright Night
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriters: Marti Noxon
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant
What a charmer this Fright Night is, how light-footed, easygoing and fun. Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) remakes Tom Holland’s kooky 1985 splatterfest of the same name, but the relevant comparison here is the work of Sam Raimi, whose effortless command of mood and tone the film recalls most vividly. Like some of Raimi’s best work, Fright Night is lighthearted and silly even as it feels fully invested. A lesser film would have made fun of this material; instead, I got the sense that the filmmakers cared enough about it to make it funny.
Like the best horror movies, Fright Night works on two levels; in this case, as a vampire yarn wrapped in the story of a likable teenager learning how to be a decent human being. Anton Yelchin, suddenly everywhere, takes over for William Ragsdale as Charlie Brewster, a Las Vegas high-schooler whose social fate seems to have transformed overnight. Gone is the pimply dweeb roleplaying in the back yard with his buddy Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse); a growth spurt and clearer skin have netted Charlie popular jock friends, an enviable girlfriend (Imogen Poots), and no time for his old friend at the bottom of the totem pole. Which is inconvenient, because Ed really needs to tell Charlie something: he thinks that Charlie’s charismatic new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire.
The film eventually becomes a creature feature in the spirit of Holland’s original, again bringing in legendary vampire hunter Peter Vincent, played here by David Tennant as a gothed-out Vegas stage magician instead of an over-the-hill late-night TV host. But the first half is a delightful, slightly bloody neighborhood romp; despite the deserved R rating, it gets closer to the spirit of 1980’s Amblin than Super 8 could manage. There’s lots of sneaking around empty houses and racing against time to pick locks; the tone is at once breezy and suspenseful in an old-fashioned way, assisted by Ramin Djawadi’s Danny Elfman-esque score. The screenplay is funny without being jokey or sarcastic, and the cast, with an assist from the wonderful but underused Toni Collette as Charlie’s single mom, is the definition of amiable. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, sadly fated to be identified with Superbad’s McLovin’ for at least another decade, acquits himself nicely as a comic foil for the understated Yelchin; I wished the two had more screen time together.
There’s some weight to Charlie himself – not too much, but enough. The film offers a shadow of a coming-of-age story, a lesson that growing up and becoming the person you want to be comes with responsibilities as well as benefits; as Charlie’s mom says early in the film, “Getting what you want can be stressful when you’re not used to getting it.” Yelchin gets a wonderful scene with the dart-eyed, shark-like Farrell at the doorstep of Charlie’s house (for obvious reasons); Jerry delivers a barely-veiled threat to Charlie’s mom and girlfriend while at the same time telling him exactly what he needs to hear – that it’s his job to protect them. (This is, needless to say, open to attack on feminist grounds, but it nonetheless makes perfect sense to a 17 year-old boy.) Fright Night takes this stuff seriously without dwelling on it. The subplot involving Evil Ed, whom Charlie’s newfound popularity leaves in the lurch, is efficiently established and swiftly resolved, satisfying and unsentimental. There are no big speeches – just a hilariously blunt acknowledgement by Charlie that he “grew up into a dick.”
Third-act mileage will vary, as the movie abandons a key character and, for a short while, goes on a bit of horror flick autopilot. Then Gillespie and his screenwriter, Marti Noxon (a veteran of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), rally with a lovely, quietly touching final shot that really embodies the spirit of this top-notch remake: sincere and sweet, a little edgy, with just a hint of a smile.
— Eugene Novikov