MOVIE REVIEW: Fright Night
A kinetic revamp that surpasses its campy 1980s original in almost every respect, Craig Gillespie’s Great Recession-themed Fright Night opens veins and takes names with reckless abandon. Smart, brutal, and inventive, Fright Night merges classic Horror film aesthetics like shadow design and angular compositions with each character’s increasing sense of panic, touching a critical nerve in the process. Modern-day America is being drained by a host of different blood-suckers; joblessness, reality television, illusion, and the occasional serial killing vampire. Director Gillespie revels in blood and guts to break down these motifs, but the gore always works in the service of the pinpoint screenplay by Marti Noxon, who uses Tom Holland’s original script as more a template than a map. What was once leaden is now rapid-fire, a quick-on-the-draw horror vision that continuously propels forward to stay alive.
Spry high school student Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives in a sectioned-off tract home development on the outskirts of Las Vegas that is slowly succumbing to the pressures of economic uncertainty. But Charley’s got his head in the clouds, too busy courting an attractive new flame named Amy (Imogen Poots) to care about the legion of realty signs popping up on his neighbors lawns, not to mention the number of missing persons piling up in the surrounding area. Charley’s self-satisfying ignorance gets destroyed in one fell swoop by his former best friend, Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a geek’s geek and vampire hound investigating the recent disappearances. Left lonely and bitter by Charley’s ascent up the teenage social ladder, Ed spends his time charting the violent exploits of Jerry (Colin Farrell), a suave and cunning neighbor who is most definitely a vampire. Fright Night makes no bones about keeping Jerry’s true colors a mystery: he’s a serial hunter in every sense, and no one is safe.
After 3-D coagulating blood pools act as fluid title-cards, Gillsepie develops the relationships between Charley, Ed, and Amy before throwing them into the lion’s den. This helps the ensuing action scenes attain a necessary human investment, something many modern Horror films inevitably disavow. When Ed spills the beans to Charley, who realizes he’s got a true devil living next door, Fright Night tightens the narrative vice. Every sequence becomes a contained suspense film in of itself, cineamtic bursts of serpentine movement constructed around long takes and layered sound design. A diabolical sequence inside Jerry’s catacombs of a house, where Charley tries to save a neighbor held hostage for her rations of blood, is especially gripping since it morbidly visualizes the film’s themes regarding decimated property and failed protection. Jerry even tells Charley his “kind of neglect gives off a scent,” and this prophetic statement becomes Fright Night’s creed for losing all things sacred.
Fright Night spins its human characters like tops, jettisoning them into moments of peril that grow increasingly elaborate as the film progresses. There’s a cinematic quality to Gillespie’s roving focus, the summation of which comes during an extended car chase through the dark Nevada desert. The inclusion of a vampire-obsessed Vegas lounge act named Peter Vincent (David Tennant) and his museum-like penthouse that hosts a duel to the death between Charley and a familiar demon from his past, is a perfect example of Noxon’s sly narrative revisionism. Tennant's performance is not only funny but emotionally impacting, a worthy continuation of Roddy McDowall's empathetic turn as Vincent in the original. But it’s Gillespie’s creepy subterranean climax that finalizes Fright Night as an incendiary examination of Obama-era angst. Charley’s last ditch effort to reclaim his safety and sanity from the lethal Jerry is a surprising act of self-sacrifice, and his striking bravery transcends the film beyond simple guilty pleasure. When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire and pray for rain. Or in Charley's case, a little dash of sunlight to make things right.