Friday, August 19, 2011

Fright Night (2011) (Review)

     It took me a while to see the original Fright Night (1985).  I had one of those mothers who tried to impose her own uneasiness with the horror genre on her children.  Actually, she held crazy beliefs like that KISS stood for Knights in Satan's Service and Rush (the Canadian prog-rock band) meant Ruling Under Satan's House and is still afraid to watch the movie Jaws (1975).  I'm pretty sure the first time I saw Fright Night '85 it was on cable television.  I soon went out and and rented it – and its inferior sequel – and found a movie I really liked.  It had the right amount of camp and humor, but it was the slow build to the horror element that made it, to me, a classic.
     Don't expect that from the new version. Fright Night '11 takes the same basic premise, but has none of the fun with it.  Marti Noxon – the Queen of Mean – transplants the Angelus character from the Buffy/Angel Whedonverse and hands the role to a more talented actor in Colin Farrell.  Let me make this perfectly clear: if you are going to see this movie, Colin Farrell is the reason to go.  He does truly embody the inhuman menace of the shark from Jaws, but is somewhat hampered by the direction and editing that occasionally sets him up as a vampiric Pepé Le Pew.  Though largely robbed of any kind of a backstory or motivation beyond being a vampire and what little we do get to learn about his kind mostly goes to waste – Farrell does his best to make this movie work.
     The problem is that he isn't enough.
     Anton Yelchin, an actor who has yet to impress me in any role I've seen him in, is the lackluster lead.  We learn that he is the kind of man who would betray his friends and hang out with assholes in order to score a tasty girlfriend, but still nerdy enough to not be able to close the deal.  Seemingly, a mere ten minutes – it may have been a little more or less – Yelchin's Charley Brewster is already aware (in a way) that vampires are real.  That sucks all of the tension out of the ensuing scenes and helps get the leaden feeling of the movie going.  Yelchin does have a couple of good scenes, but he – or director Craig Gillespie – doesn't know what to do with them.
     Instead of giving an actor as good a role as they did with Roddy McDowell in the original, David Tennant (as Peter Vincent) is required to start off with what looks like a Ben Stiller impersonation of Johnny Depp in any of the Pirates movies.  There is too much unpleasant self-loathing in this new Vincent to make him accessible.  He is a pompous coward – which could have worked – that never really is given a chance for redemption; it is up Charley to do that, too.
     Imogen Poots (as Amy) and Emily Montague (as Ginger) make for attractive and mildly compelling potential victims of the vampire.  Both seem to have unreasonable faith in the Charley character, though this is a problem with the screenplay and not the acting.  Much less effective are the other potential victims that wander about the film.  Most are disagreeable and unlikeable, and in the case of Dave Franco seem to be too old to fit into the film's high school age group characters.  Toni Collette (as Charley's mother, Jane) is largely wasted.  She looks good and should be a calm, capable, strong woman that has given Charley his moral compass and conviction.  Instead, she is quickly turned into just another potential victim and is removed from the third act in an unsatisfying way (though, to be fair, it does work in the overall story).  Chris Sarandon makes an appearance – my one lone laugh of the night – as does Lisa Loeb (???).
     The film looks bland and uninspired, and that isn't due to the special effects.  The FX work, almost without exception.  It is the sets and landscape that robs the movie of any sense of life.  Watching a cookie-cutter, Las Vegas McMansion in an oddly isolated subdivision burn provokes no reaction from me, except that many built unwisely during the housing boom.  There is no vibrancy to the movie, and that is a problem.
     I cannot comment about the 3D.  There was a problem with the projection during the previews, and while it was resolved to the point of where it wasn't just blurry, most of the effects that were in 3D never really popped.  Some are obviously meant to, and if they do it will add more to the experience.  Other than those flashy (and repetitive) sequences, there are only three or four shots that effectively make use of the technology (no, I am not counting the crossbow bolt shot seen in the previews).  Gillespie does a great job with one particular shot in a swimming pool early on, then seems to degenerate into some level of amateurism with his shot selection.  This is his first feature, and in retrospect, it looked as though he wasn't ready.
     My suggestion is to watch the original Fright Night (1985) instead of the cynical, cold-hearted '11 Fright Night.  The new one isn't horrible, but like a vampire, it has no life of its own.  Colin Farrell is great in what he is allowed to do (I never thought I'd ever write a sentence like that), but the rest of the cast is subdued and improperly handled.  This is a solid C effort, but I would have like to have seen a more accomplished director – and definitely no Noxon influence – for this movie.

1 comment:

  1. Very good review!
    I did not mention it in my own review, but I didn't really care for Dave Tennant's character either.