Fright Night is unquestionably the best film to come out of the recent deluge of recycled properties. This doesn’t just mean it is the best horror reboots in recent years, but it is one of the best remakes in any genre. Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) has created a film that will appeal to lovers of the original and might earn the respect of more than a few wary observers. It is the rare reboot that hits many of the same notes of the original film, while simultaneously subverting the audience’s expectations of what is going to happen. It isn’t a perfect film, but then again, neither was the original. The fact that Fright Night manages to be on par with the original is a miracle in a world of shoddy remakes and cheap cash-ins.
In this version of the “devil living next door” story, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a reformed nerd who turns his back on his old LARPing friends when he lands a hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). One day, his old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begs Charley to listen to him when he says that his new neighbour is responsible for the disappearances of people all over their quiet Nevada desert town. The reclusive neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell), is actually a powerful vampire with an insatiable appetite and an incredibly calm demeanour. When Charley finally comes to believe his old friend no one else will take him seriously. Concerned about protecting his girlfriend and his single mother (Toni Collette), Charley turns to a Criss Angel-style charlatan for help named Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who seems more interested in bidding on worthless crap on eBay and drinking Midori straight from the bottle instead of proving his on-stage vampire hunter schtick is the real deal.
The basic idea behind Fright Night is essentially the same and this could be thanks to the fact that Tom Holland, the creator of the original film, receives a story credit here. Actual screenwriter Marti Noxon (probably best known for writing numerous episodes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) has created one of the best scripts ever for a remake. The decision to change Charley from a film-obsessed nerd to a popular kid who used to be a nerd is an inspired one that actually manages to strengthen the relationships that Charley has with those around him. She includes all of the best parts of the original film, but she plays with the sequence that they come in, and she often pokes fun at the fact that the first film was patently implausible at times. She knows what lovers of the original film expect Fright Night to be, but she also inherently understands that straight-up remakes can be terminally boring to watch. It is really hard to serve both of those masters at the same time, but she pulls it off splendidly.
The cast also knocks it out of the park any chance they get. Yelchin, an underrated young actor for quite some time, gets a role he can finally sink his teeth into while having a bit of fun running around and beating on vampires. His Charley is more conflicted and decidedly less awkward. Gillespie jettisons a lot of the self-reflexivity of the original in favour of making Charley a more well rounded person instead of one with a list of character traits. With the evolution of Charley as a character, his villainous counterpart also has to evolve.
Colin Farrell is easily the MVP of the summer between his performance here and his scene stealing turn in Horrible Bosses. His Jerry is still smooth, but a lot less of a lothario than the one played by Chris Sarandon in the original. Jerry is eerily friendly and never prone to outbursts of anger. Even when he is doing something patently evil, Farrell still wears a deliciously detached smile on his face. His thinly veiled threats are intentionally funny, but also deeply uncomfortable.
David Tennant steps into the reduced and radically transformed Peter Vincent role, but he makes it his own. Tennant plays Vincent like a patently fake version of Russell Brand that just happened to luck into getting his own Las Vegas stage show. Also dealing with a reduced role is Mintz-Plasse, who delivers some great work as an annoyed, but deeply hurt person who is still loyal to the friend who turned his back on him. Even Poots and Collette deserve shout-outs for playing characters so sympathetic that the whole film only becomes stronger as a result of their being on screen.
At a shade under two hours, Fright Night is a bit long and it takes a while to really get to the point, but then again the original was the exact same way. Gillespie is still a director with only a handful of credits to his name and at times he bites off a bit more than he can chew with some of the action set pieces, but the product itself is incredibly tight. A subplot involving a local bully doesn’t really go anywhere, and one wishes that Collette and Mintz-Plasse have more to do leading up to the climax of the film. These are all relatively minor nitpicks for a film that is ultimately very entertaining and never dull. Fright Night is the only 80s horror reboot that is actually as awesome as the original and is also the real deal on its own terms. It’s not perfect, but it certainly is remarkable.