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Movie Review: Fright Night (R)

Fright-Night-2011-Movie-PosterKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

Length: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Age Appropriate for: 15+. There’s a bunch of blood (ripped-out throats, decapitation, gushing veins, etc.) since it’s a vampire movie, and some genuine thrills of the things-that-go-bump-in-the-dark variety. There is also cursing and implied sexual content (no nudity except for a woman’s butt); overall, however, the movie has a thread of campiness running through it and the CGI is a little goofy, so it’s not too emotionally distressing.

How does ‘Fright Night,’ a slightly silly ‘80s movie about vampires, magicians and teen believers, transform into a genuinely scary summer thriller? A smart script from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ scribe Marti Noxon and tense scene-chewing from Colin Farrell, of course!

By Roxana Hadadi

Is Colin Farrell having the best summer ever?

Unlike other actors who have appeared in numerous films during the past few months — like Ryan Reynolds, who starred in the flop “Green Lantern” and the underwhelming “The Change-Up” — Farrell was fantastically hilarious as a cocaine-addicted jerk in “Horrible Bosses” and is now overwhelmingly terrifying as a 400-year-old vampire in “Fright Night,” this summer’s scariest flick.

I gasped. I hid my eyes. I gasped some more (maybe this time at Farrell’s abs). And if the movie were longer than its 106-minute runtime, I’d be totally fine with that.

The original 1985 “Fright Night,” directed by Tom Holland (who also took the reins on the cult classic “Child’s Play,” about the murderer stuck in a talking children’s doll), came two years before 1987’s much-loved “The Lost Boys,” and it’s not nearly as Hot Topic-y as that film with Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Instead, it was somewhat silly, with a vampire named Jerry; his teen neighbor Charley, who figures out his identity; and an actor, Peter Vincent, who helps Charley defeat the undead villain. The biggest effects were some glowing red eyes and an explosion at the film’s climax — it certainly wasn’t something that would keep you up at night.

This “Fright Night,” however, very well could. With a smart, witty script from Marti Noxon, who as a writer and co-producer was instrumental in making Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV show wonderfully believable (real talk: “Buffy” is my second-favorite show of all time, after No. 1 winner “The Wire”), and solid direction from Craig Gillespie, the movie hits all the right notes. It’s tense when it needs to be, scary during the moments that matter, emotional as the film’s conclusion nears — and ultimately drives home the idea that vampires are visceral, fierce, ravenous and horrifying, as they should be. Let “Fright Night” help end the era of “Twilight,” people! I’m so over Edward’s vegetarianism and sparkly skin.

Jerry (Farrell) is basically the opposite of everything Cullen: For hundreds of years, he’s hunted, fed and disappeared, slinking back into the darkness after feasting on legions of innocent victims. He plans to do the same in a cookie-cutter suburb outside Las Vegas, where high school senior Charley (Anton Yelchin) has left his nerdy friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) behind for a more popular crew, led by his gorgeous girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) and cruel bullies Mark (Dave Franco, James’s younger brother) and Ben (Reid Ewing). Charley tries to ignore Ed most of the time, but it’s hard to shove him aside when he confronts Charley to tell him that his new neighbor Jerry is a vampire. As in, a eats-people-for-a-living, can’t-go-out-during-the-day, must-be-invited-into-someone’s-house vampire.

Charley doesn’t believe Ed, of course — even though he points to celebrity magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant) as another believer — but soon it becomes clear that something strange is happening in their quiet little neighborhood. First their friend Adam disappears, then more kids from their school, and Jerry starts acting weird. He hits on Charley’s mom Jane (Toni Collette), but then subtly threatens Charley with a request for beer that isn’t really about alcohol at all. He takes people inside his home, but no one seems to come back out. And when Charley starts wondering whether Ed could be telling the truth — with his proclamation that “[‘Twilight’] is fiction. This is real” — suddenly everything about Jerry seems to be pointing toward a profoundly supernatural conclusion.

All of this could be comical — embarrassingly laughable, really — if Gillespie, Noxon, Farrell and Yelchin didn’t take it so seriously. So much of “Fright Night” is built around tense standoffs between Farrell and Yelchin, and whether it’s when Jerry lingers outside of Charley’s kitchen door, both of them trying to decipher what the other knows, or during the film’s gory, fire-filled conclusion, they’re certainly a match for each other. Farrell is unstoppable here: His narrowed eyes, sly smirk and smug looks are fantastically inspired, and just like he did in “Horrible Bosses,” he steals scenes like nobody’s business. Yelchin, who brought his fresh face to other franchise flicks like “Terminator Salvation” and “Star Trek,” is the perfect amount of sensitive and determined here, effectively transitioning from a vampire disbeliever to an all-too-knowing convert. He may look young, but he has just the right amount of grit to stand up to Jerry (even though the vampire is devilishly enjoyable).

The only flaws in “Fright Night” come from CGI that becomes a bit too overzealous, perhaps to live up to the film’s 3-D format. Jerry is scary enough as a black-eyed, broad-shouldered baddie, so when he transitions into demon mode, the effects don’t really add anything truly fearful — too many teeth aren’t always a good thing. The 3-D is totally worth it at times, though, and burning embers floating toward your face never looked so cool (even when compared with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”). If this is going to be a date movie and you’re OK with clutching onto your movie companion, spend the extra few dollars for 3-D tickets and you’ll have a better viewing experience.

“Fright Night” would be great in any format, though, so don’t skip it. Who could have guessed one of the scariest movies of the summer would also be one of the best? Congrats to Farrell — whether he’s sniffing mountains of drugs or licking blood off his victims, he’s acting the hell out of this season.

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