Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Twilight, Meet Fright Night

Wow, I can't believe how much is out that I need to catch up on. Okay, NEED is a strong word. This past weekend marked the release of two titles that may play major roles in setting up the 2011 award season, the old-school biological scare film Contagion and the Fighter-meets-Rocky-meets-Mixed Martial Arts slow burn Warrior. Two other titles, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star and Creature, were also released, but will only be seen by me ironically if at all. That being said I've yet to watch any of them. These last few weeks have had me see fewer movies than usual, and as such I'm still catching up on films released in the past few weeks. It's getting to the point where Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Apollo 18 and Shark Night might end up as eventual DVD releases after I'd expected to see them in theaters. But while newer titles beckon, I've still got time for a little catching up, and Fright Night was the best (or at least best timed) option on the table. A remake of the 1985 vampire film starring William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall, Fright Night looked to perhaps be the weakest of 2011's wide-release horror titles. Looking too campy, too silly, and too repetitive to live (not to mention pointlessly made in 3D), I didn't expect much from this title except for perhaps strong acting performances from the renowned Colin Farrell, David "Dr. Who" Tenant and Toni Collette.

Hey, look! Mr. Anderson is paying attention to us!
When people start disappearing from the insular neighborhoods outside Las Vegas, most people don't pay any attention. After all, nobody stays in Vegas, with the exception of Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother, real estate agent Jane (Collette). Charley's life is going pretty well these days. A former geek, Charley has grown into one of the :"cool kids", having abandoned his old life and entered into a new one, including a relationship with formerly untouchable hottie Amy (Imogen Poots). Soon, Charley is approached by his old friend "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and told to his disbelief that his new neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is in fact a vampire, feeding on the people coming and going from the neighborhood. While Charley doesn't at first believe this (and seriously, would you?), events occur which shake his resolve and force him to believe the unbelievable. And when Jerry's reign of terror hits home, Charley finds himself battling a creature with centuries of experience in survival on his side.

Jerry? What an AWFUL name for a vampire!
Let's get this out of the way right now: 3D is the most overrated technology introduced to film in the past decade. I know I must sound like a broken record by this point, but seriously? Every film seems to want to be in 3D, thinking that it's what people want. It's not. It never was. People wanted more films like Avatar to be in 3D, sure. With the outstanding visuals presented in that 2009 Oscar contender, that makes sense. There have even been a few films that have successfully used 3D as a vehicle for improving the overall quality of their product. Those films have been very few, however, as most titles simply do not need 3D to be "better". Horror is possibly the last genre that can use the technology, and for Fright Night, that is no exception. While some horror films can use 3D to at least some effect (Final Destination 5, for example), in Fright Night it is completely without use, as even the film's few action scenes don't make great use of the imagery. Only the occasional rays of sunlight are remotely impressive, and while that is likely intentional, it's not worth the added cost of admission.

Awkward moment will end with much blood
But once you get past the silliness of parading this title in 3D, Fright Night actually surprises with a clever story, interesting characters, and dark humor that raises the occasional smile. The biggest reasons are among those that brought me to the theater in the first place, Colin Farrell and David Tenant. Farrell's suburban vampire is effectively both scary and amusing. It's as if Farrell took inspiration from Ghostbusters's demon-infested Louis Tully and made him the straight man, as Jerry appears at times torn between his human-like and animalistic sides. Tenant, meanwhile, is at first unrecognizable as a Chris Angel-like "vampire expert", who is really a television performer who specializes in the undead. Tenant is at times hilarious and never worse than plain funny, stealing each and every scene. I know a young couple for whom Tenant is the only reason to see this title, and I can safely say that they will not be disappointed. Unfortunately, the final piece of my talent trifecta, Collette, is underused and unappreciated. I know that as Charley's mom she's just a secondary character, but since I know she has the talent to be better than that I still feel she was not given enough to work with.

The best part of Fright Night, hands down
As for the younger actors, they have their moments, but pale in comparison to the adults, which is a shame since they turn out to have more to do with the story. Imogen Poots is the best of the bunch, hands down. I loved her small role in last year's Centurion, and while the girlfriend/victim role she plays isn't quite as satisfying here, she is good enough to overcome the character's limited range. The same cannot be said for Yelchin, who seems to prove himself more a poor man's Shia LaBeouf with each successive films appearance. And since LaBeouf is already a poor man's Charlie Sheen, that's not much credit given. I'm still hopeful for his upcoming Like Crazy, but only because it's supposed to be amazing and not because he's in it. Christopher Mintz-Plasse has only a minor part, but he like Tenant has the ability to steal multiple scenes, not bad for a young man nobody heard of five years ago.

...Aaaand the cross is on fire. Good going there, Van Helsing
The film covers more than a few vampire retreads, but for a completely unoriginal film Fright Night is a lot better than it has any right being. Sure, the ending is a bit sudden, but between the good acting and decent pacing, there's an enjoyable film in there. I might not recommend it for the theater, but it'll be a must-see on DVD, which thankfully will have the option to turn off the groan-inducing 3D for your home viewing pleasure. Certainly not a bad film from director Craig Gillespie, whose previous effort Lars and the Real Girl probably stands much higher (I never saw it), but it's obvious he's still in his formative years creatively, as the future shows us the film adaptation of teen horror parody Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but no potential Oscar favorites. Still, we can still be entertained by Fright Night, and put it on our sleeper lists for a fun night out this month.

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