Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review: "Fright Night" (2011)

Here comes some nimble justification:

The Truth Inside The Lie is a blog that is (mostly) about Stephen King books/movies/etc.  The remake of Fright Night has nothing whatsoever to do with Stephen King.  I am the author of The Truth Inside The Lie.  I liked the remake of Fright Night and want to write a review of it ... but how can I spin it so as to make it seem appropriate for a King-centric blog?

Well, dig this: the original Fright Night was written and directed by Tom Holland, amongst whose later work would be two Stephen King adaptations: The Langoliers and Thinner.

Bam!  How ya like them apples?!?

AND -- as if that wasn't enough -- it stars Anton Yelchin, who formerly starred in Hearts In Atlantis as Bobby Garfield.

Double bam!!


What's that you say?  It's my blog, so I don't have to make excuses to post things that aren't (strictly speaking) related to S.K., I just have to do it and shut up about it so nobody has to read intros like this?

Well, jeez, why dontcha just take all the fun out of things?


Oh, right; I was going to review a movie.  Allons-y!

I suppose I should confess that I've never seen the original Fright Night.  For a child of the '80s, as well as a sometime horror buff, I intuit that maybe that's mildly sacrilegious.  Either way, I've never seen it, so if I praise as original or exceptionally winning anything that came from the Tom Holland movie (to which credit ought to properly be given), don't rake me over the coals for it; I'm admitting my ignorance right up front.

By the way, there will be no spoilers in this dojo.  Just so you know.

The short version: I liked this movie a lot; I can see it becoming a bit of a staple around Halloween, although I also want to also temper my enthusiasm a bit, because the movie is by no means perfect.  It's not scary enough for me to call it perfect, and there are certain aspects of the movie's resolution that failed to satisfy me (so as to maintain my self-imposed no-spoilers embargo, I won't get into that here).  There are also some slightly wonky CGI effects; I think they are meant to replicate the look of the vampire from the original film, and they don't kill the movie here by any means, but they just don't quite work for me.

But what the movie gets right, it gets really right.  And one of the things it gets right is the casting.

Hey, look!  It's Anton Yelchin from Hearts In Atlantis, all grown up!  (You might also recognize Yelchin from his supporting roles in Star Trek and Terminator Salvation.)

On the commentary track for the Hearts In Atlantis DVD, Anthony Hopkins was very effusive in his praise for Yelchin, and predicted that he would go on to have a bright future in acting.  Fright Night isn't going to do anything to prove Hopkins wrong: he's very good here playing Charley.  He's plausible as a high-schooler caught between the dweebiness of his younger years and the cool-kid swagger he has recently found himself walking with (trying to walk with, at least).  That's a more complex role than movies of this type tend to have, and with a lesser actor in the part, the movie might not have worked.  Instead, Yelchin hits all the right notes; he is never too cool, but neither is he ever too nerdy.  It's good work from a very interesting young star in the making.

Speaking of stars in the making, do you remember when Colin Farrell was given the title of Next Film Superstar by virtually everyone on the planet EXCEPT, you know, ticket-buying audience members?  Minority Report was supposed to grease the wheels, and then either S.W.A.T. or Alexander or Miami Vice was supposed to make it a reality, and yet, somehow, it just never has quite happened.

But through it all, Farrell has been turning in solid performances in movies both good (In Bruges, The New World) and not-so-good (Daredevil, Pride and Glory).  Well, he's freakin' spectacular in this movie, so much so that it's possible he may kickstart any number of Twilight fangirls right smack dab into womanhood.  I mean, just turn 'em from girl to woman right there in the theatre in the middle of the movie; they'll be stickin' to the seats, I'm telling you.  Edward who?

Truth be told, it might just as easily go the other way.  Farrell is playing a vampire who is more in the Dracula dangerous-but-sexy-but-really-dangerous-not-fake-"I've-got-no-idea-what-vampires-actually-are"-dangerous mold than he is in the modern hunky-vampire-who'll-buy-you-flowers type of mold.  And while there's been a bit of that (the former string of hyphenated words, that is, not the latter) happening on True Blood to also kick the vampire fangirls into womanhood, there may end up being just as many who simply refuse to go see this, or who do go see it and fail to respond to it at all.  Farrell is injecting a very nice modern sensibility into his role here, but at the heart of things, he's playing an old-school vamp, and it remains to be seen if old-school vamps can get back any of the currency they've lost in these Team Edward days.

Speaking of currency, let's talk next about David Tennant, who's got quite a bit of it in the geek community.  David who?, you might ask.  Well, if you ask that, then you are clearly no Doctor Who fan.  He played the tenth Doctor on that venerable British institution, and did so with considerable charisma and energy, and sometimes with a barely-concealed gleam of madness shining in his eyes.

He's hitting a lot of the same notes here, too, and that's probably wise move on his part, because he's great at it.  He's almost certain to earn himself a lot of new American fans with this movie.

He's playing Peter Vincent, a stage "magician" to whom Charlie turns for advice and assistance.  Tennant is really good at playing the various different shades that we see come out in Vincent.  And if you somewhat expect him to start shouting "Not tonight, Dalek!" at certain points...?  Well, that's not a downside, as far as I'm concerned.

Playing Amy, Charlie's girlfriend, is Imogen Poots, whom you might recognize from the excellent 28 Weeks Later.  She's good here; Amy is alluring in a stereotypically popular-girl-on-campus type of way, but is also atypical enough that it seems plausible for her to have started dating a former dork like Charlie.  Poots does a good job at walking that line, although -- unsurprisingly -- Amy exists in the screenplay mostly as a metaphor for Charlie's development rather than as a fully-fleshed-out character in her own right.  That this isn't a bigger problem for the film is testament to how warm and engaging Poots is in the role.

Also, can I just go ahead and say this: good googly-moogly is she gorgeous.  I thought so back in 28 Weeks Later, and again in the not-bad Centurion, but she's so hot in this movie that I thought it might melt my eyeballs a bit.  She's too good for me, but still, she ought to consider marrying me if for no other reason than to divest herself of that slightly unfortunate last name.  She's a great actress, and I worry that the name might actually hold her back a bit, and if I can help make sure that doesn't happen ... well, Imogen, you know where to find me.

Creepy-old-man moment now ending.

Another prominent role goes to Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and I've got to pause for a moment to give that guy some kudos.  By all rights, after Superbad he should have been reduced to cameos in commercials, or to reality-television roles.  That's not to say that he deserves that sort of fate; it's just that that tends to be what happens to actors who come to fame for breakout -- but extremely specific -- roles like McLovin in Superbad.  And yet, Mintz-Plasse has been doing quite well at landing meaty roles in credible films, such as Role Models and Kick-Ass.  He's got one again here, and he does a good job with it.  He's funny, he's nerdy enough that you understand why Charlie does some of the things he does, and he's also self-sufficient enough that you believe he'd take on the self-appointed job of vampire hunter.  Well done, sir.

I also like Toni Collette as Charlie's mother.  She is given very little to do in the movie; it's a thankless role in a lot of ways.  However, she is sexy enough that you buy Farrell being interested in her, and she is expert at playing a character who feels like she could have raised a son who so ably walks the line between utter dork and bona fide stud.  Again, with a lesser actor in the role, you might have a difficult time investing in a few of the movie's key scenes.  It's not a major role for Collette, but she makes the most of it nevertheless.

Speaking of Collette, the movie is directed by Craig Gillespie, who directed her in a number of episodes of her much-lauded Showtime series The United States of Tara.  In the feature world, he also directed the much-lauded Lars and the Real Girl, as well as the considerably less-lauded Mr. Woodcock.  I can't get much of a read on his talents based on his work here.  Visually, the movie is rarely showy, which is fine; that's not a prerequisite for a good movie.  The tone is consistently spot-on, veering back and forth between the comedic and the fantastic without ever going too far in one direction.

If I have one complaint, it's that the movie never scared me, not even a little bit, although I've got to consider the possibility that that is entirely on purpose.  This is a movie that is more about fun than it is about gore (though there is a bit) or creepiness.  It might be that Gillespie wanted to keep the chills at bay, figuring they belonged somewhere else.  I'm not convinced he's any kind of genius director, but he is great with actors if nothing else, and I'll be curious to see where his career goes from here.

A couple more mentions, these on the more technical side of things.  First: I thought the movie looked great.  The cinematographer was Javier  Aguirresarobe, who's got some beautiful credits to his name: The Others, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Road, and (don't laugh -- the photography was not the problem here) both New Moon and Eclipse.  Aguirresarobe does a terrific job with all the nighttime scenes in Fright Night; I especially liked one sequence early on in which Yelchin and Mintz-Plasse are in a neighbor's house, looking for clues.  The scene is set at dusk, and there are no lights on in the house; it's one of the best-looking depictions of nearly-gone sunlight that I can recall ever seeing.

And finally, the score is by Ramin Djawadi, an up-and-coming composer who did a mediocre job on the first Iron Man but has since won me over a bit by serving as the composer for HBO's Game of Thrones.  I loved his main title music for that series, and while his work on Fright Night isn't as good as his work on Game of Thrones, it's lively and fun and tells me that he might be someone to keep an eye on if you're a film-score geek like I am.



I almost totally forgot to mention the screenplay by Marti Noxon.  I spent part of the movie thinking to myself that it was proof that even without Joss Whedon, a remake of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- which is in the works, and will almost certainly pick up steam if Fright Night is a hit -- could work, provided it had the charm and wit and lack of cheese that this movie has.  Well, once the end credits -- which are awesome, by the way -- rolled and I saw that Noxon had written the adaptation, I knew why the Buffy connection had popped into my head.  Noxon wrote 23 episodes of that show, and was one of its primary creative forces alongside Whedon.  Obviously, she learned from one of the masters of sardonic dialogue, and she's got some here.  She also does a good job of keeping the screenplay focused on Charlie: this is his movie, for better or worse, and remains so consistently from beginning to end ...even when David Tennant and Colin Farrell are on screen, which is a bit of an achievement.

So, all in all, this movie absolutely gets a thumbs-up.  As long as you're not expecting to be scared, horror fans are advised to go and check it out: you're likely to have a good time.


  1. Bryant:

    I was surfing King Dollar Baby stuff and came across a post of yours about my interview on "The King Cast" and my film Everything's Eventual. You we right that most people won't see the film but you may have been wrong about yourself :)

    If you are interested in taking a look at the film and considering a post on your blog about it. Email me if you are interested.


    J.P. Scott

  2. For what it's worth, I finally got 'round to watching the original version of "Fright Night" tonight. In virtually every way, I prefer the remake, but that's not to say the original is bad; it isn't, although it comes close in a few spots. For example, any time Evil Ed is on-screen, or any time there is a special effect. Also, let's be gentle and say that most of the songs used in the film ... have not aged well.

    On the other hand, Roddy McDowall is terrific, and that's the one area where I think I might prefer it to the remake. I love David Tennant, and I like the P.V. character in the remake, but there's something sweet and touching about the original that the remake doesn't replicate.

    Now I need to see the sequel so I can say I've seen it all!

  3. I've seen the sequel.

    I didn't need to see that; it was awful.