Movie Review - Fright Night

posted Aug 29, 2011, 9:47 AM by Steve N Bradford
So this hurricane came up the coast and decided to knock out power to my house Saturday night.  So naturally when it was still out Sunday the thing to do was to go out and enjoy air conditioning and electricity elsewhere.  And what better place than the local Gigagoogolmultiplex Cinema?  So I caught Fright Night in 3D.  In general I would say that 3D is a waste of time.  I mean, I paid $16 for a ticket for a movie that was under two hours long, and the 3D usually just feels disorienting for the first 20-30 minutes of a movie.  But in a blood splatter-fest like Fright Night, I decided it would be fun.  Also I was too late to watch it in 2D.

Firstoff... I am going to have spoilers in this review.  If you want to avoid them...stop reading.  If you think that a movie like Fright Night is something that will be ruined by reading a few spoilers, you should also stop reading.  The experience of this film is obviously to watch it and have fun, even on a first viewing it telegraphs every plot turn so that by the time it happens you go 'well.... duh'.  Anyhow.

Now Fright Night originally came out in 1985, it was about a kid who was convinced his neighbor was a vampire but had no hard evidence and then of course, had to fight him when it turned out he was.  Funny and scary, just like a horror movie should be.  This remake assumes that we all know about the first one, and that the neighbor is obviously a vampire.  Unfortunately the way that they played it out in this film was extremely boring.  We see all the evidence that he is a vampire right off the bat, and we all believe he is from the get go.  The protagonist's old best friend (the super nerd he is) is fittingly portrayed by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.... AKA McLovin from Superbad.  He should really look into changing his name to something more easily remembered, and spelled.  Very early on we have him just flat out say "Dude is a Vampire!" and we don't doubt him for a second.  Partially because he is at this moment in the film the most endearing of the characters.  When he goes to try to spy on the vampire, rather than Colin Farrell's 'Jerry' denying that he is a vampire he right away admits to it and murders our over delving nerd.  Ok great, now that we have that out of the way we can move on with the plot right?  WRONG.  Now we need to go through the whole thing again with our protagonist, while he awkwardly stares at Jerry and suspects him, never saying anything.  Of course now everything thinks our hero is being paranoid and strange, and he doesn't want to admit what he thinks.  This note plays.... for a while.  No.  Not a while.  For a frikkin' fortnight.  Its almost a whole little movie into itself.  Its painful and awkward more than suspenseful and dangerous.

The vampire continues to simply play up that he is a vampire.  When given the chance rather than being friendly and normal, he seems to intentionally act creepy and weird.  Stopping to have a long awkward monologue hinting at the things he plans to do to kill our hero.  The thing is, we don't for a second think he is warning him to back off, and there won't be a problem.  Instead its pretty clear he is just threatening him and confirming that he is evil.  Really?  The best idea he has for maintaining himself as hidden as a vampire is to threaten some 17 year old kid?  Instead he could just discredit him, or avoid the question entirely.  If he plans on killing him, maybe he should do it right away instead of letting him get away time and time again so that he can eventually get his wits about him enough to be a threat.

Now, there is a point in this film where things turn around.  Exploding strippers can have that effect after all.  Suddenly no one is pretending they don't know what is going on.  Our rivals are clearly identified and know where they stand with one another and the fight is on.  At this point the movie becomes interesting, with a clearly defined conflict and risks we start to care about what happens to the characters, and know that the time for 'letting him get away' has passed.  Enter David Tennant.  He honestly is one of the bright spots of the movie.  Particularly because of the build up we have before seeing him.  Not just in the movie itself, but the advertising campaign outside of it.  We are led to believe he is a very serious man, a vampire hunter, an expert on the occult and not someone to be trifled with.  Instead we get a bit of a silly wimpy fellow who likes to play dress up.  Its an absolutely delightful destruction of a perceived hero.  Nearly every word out of his mouth serves to belittle his expected status and serves as a much needed comic force in the film.  His performance was hilarious, and the writing of his character was exactly what the film needed to get us involved again.

The film began to pick up from here and ended up a really enjoyable ride at the end.  When conflict is clearly defined and goals are known the plot can move forward and characters can play.  But when the script isn't quite sure what is going on just yet, everything drags.  At its core this movie is an action horror film, its about fights and chases and blood splattering out of the screen and assaulting everyone wearing one of those Ray Ban looking 3D sunglasses.  When it embraces action humor and blood splatter its a good movie.  When its pretending to be suspenseful, or brooding, or contemplative it falls flat.  This is not just the fault of the writer, but the main character did not have the chops to take relatively bland scenes and make them interesting.  It was not until the end of the film that he began to be interesting, but fortunately he was surrounded by some actors who knew what they were doing and made his shortcomings less evident.

So lesson of the day... know your conflict and make sure that's what your scenes are about.  Don't just spend the first third of your film rehashing "I think he is a vampire and no one else does".  We get that note right away, move on to something more interesting.

PS... its weird seeing the nerdy kid from Superbad with facial hair isn't it?  Even if it is just scruff.