Directed by Craig Gillespie
Its direct knocks at Twilight may land on the obvious side, but give the horror remake Fright Night credit for allowing vampires to be humanoid (unlike, say, the alien-ish crawlers of Priest) without descending into ultra-lite, faux-gothic romance. Jerry (Colin Farrell), who moves in next door to Charley (Anton Yelchin) and his mother (Toni Collette) looks charming and rugged—like Colin Farrell—but he's really a cocky predator, a suburban vamp as sexual predator or serial killer His villainy is obvious from the start; the movie barely gives Jerry any time to be a mysterious stranger, maybe because Farrell can't keep a lid on his just-right animalistic confidence. Even when he's ostensibly trying to act normal, he looks like a cat toying with a helpless mouse.
Yelchin, in the role of the mouse, is one of those actors who volleys between teenage and young-adult roles so consistently that it borders on distracting. Here he's back playing a kid, an ex-nerd who has scored a hot, popular girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and abandoned his dorkier friends for hers. In the original (unseen by me), Charley was a horror fan; here, he tries to conceal his geekdom and shuns his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), which would be a neat twist if the movie made it more than cursory. The same is true of another alteration: Peter Vincent, the horror-movie hero Charley turned to in the original, is redrawn as a Criss Angel-ish magician with a show in nearby Las Vegas, played with soused irreverence by David Tennant.
Even armed with good ideas, this version of Fright Night doesn't seem to know what it wants to evoke: guilt over abandoned friends (Ed seethes over his lost friend and has to blackmail him into helping him investigate the creep next door); sex-anxiety (vampire concerns keep interrupting Charley's relationship) and/or parental-sex-anxiety (Jerry has a brief flirtation with Charley's mom); or a cynical pop idol manning up to face his demons (Peter Vincent buries himself in vampire memorabilia). All of these are batted around and none are really developed; the only constant is Yelchin, who doesn't have time to demonstrate much chemistry with the many supporting characters who rotate around him.
Too bad, because the movie displays some horror-ride bona fides; they just don't cohere into anything more meaningful than professionally rendered mood and tone. But when the movie stops picking up and dropping story threads, it does have a sneaky simplicity and decent craft. Director Craig Gillespie has previously worked on comedies, but he has no trouble evoking the dusky eeriness of the suburbs, enhanced by the remoteness of a housing development outside of Vegas. During some tightly shot sequences inside Jerry's suburban lair, the use of 3-D, while regrettably dimming some already-dark images, faintly evokes Dial M for Murder, and of course the story hook owes a little bit to Rear Window.
But while Gillespie milks considerable suspense from Yelchin's snooping and Jerry's pursuit, his movie winds up closer to a Hitchcock knock-off like Disturbiait lacks the flair of true obsession. The movie should get wilder and snappier as it goes, but its dialogue stays lackluster and the would-be tension-breaking laugh lines (replete with plenty of characters saying "really?!") are weak. Strange that the screenplay comes from Marti Noxon, a veteran of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She of all people should better know the potential frission between the supernatural and the supernerdy.
Opens August 19