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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette
DIRECTED BY
Craig Gillespie
SCREENPLAY
Marti Noxon (Screenplay), Tom Holland (Story)
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
106 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Walt Disney Studios
DVD EXTRAS
NA
 "Fright Night (2011)" Review 
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If you've been a fan of mine for any length of time, you've likely heard me ranting and raving about my love for the quirky and under-appreciated film Lars and the Reai Girl, a film that earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination but largely went unnoticed at the box-office. Directed by Craig Gillespie, who directed the over-appreciated Mr. Woodcock that very same year, the unusual storyline of Lars and the Real Girl, about a young man's "relationship" with an life-sized and anatomically correct female doll, scared away audiences who'd have likely appreciated the film's otherwise remarkable insight, heart and humor.

Lars and the Real Girl even played the local Heartland Film Festival, a surprisingly edgy choice for a film festival that leans towards safer, more inspirational cinema. Of course, Heartland audiences mostly dismissed the film.

Stunning.

So, headed into the screening for Fright Night, a semi-remake of a 1985 well regarded horror film with a deceptive current of comedy running through it, the real question was "Which of Craig Gillespie's films was the real Craig Gillespie?"

It's not that Mr. Woodcock was dreadful, but that Lars and the Real Girl was damn near a masterpiece. Was Gillespie content to do a simple, generic retread or is he, in fact, a talented filmmaker who can take marketable material and create an artistic statement?

Bingo.

While Gillespie's Fright Night isn't nearly a masterpiece and doesn't come anywhere near matching the remarkable Lars and the Real Girl, it is a remarkably entertaining film with ample doses of comedy, creatively constructed horror scenes and a tension between the humor and the horror that is just electrifying.

Charley (Anton Yelchin) is a teenager who lives with his mother (Toni Collette) in a freakishly isolated subdivision that seems tailor-made for mysterious happenings of the alien or otherworldly variety. Charley is an expert of sorts on vampires, but doesn't immediately pick up that this may have something to do with why he's getting weird vibes with his next door neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), an attractive and uncomfortably compelling single man whose home inexplicably features a dumpster in front of it. This isn't ordinary, but it is.

Charley's best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz Plasse), kind of has it all figured out. That's probably not a good thing.

There are so many master strokes in Fright Night that it's difficult to know where to begin. There are so many small things that add up to one hugely enjoyable film that one simply must acknowledge that, against what most people are likely expecting, Fright Night may very well be one of the best directed horror films of the year.

That's right. I said "best directed." Too often in horror, filmmakers prove to be lazy schlubs who are content to toss in really graphic gore, a few scares and the obligatory horror original score and call it a "horror film." Isn't that how we ended up getting Saw 27: Jigsaw's Missing a Piece? Very few filmmakers in the horror genre, at least in Hollywood, take the actual craft of creating a horror film seriously. It happens on the indie scene, but very seldom in the wide release world.

While Fright Night may never be considered a horror classic, it's a film that transcends its abundant familiarity thanks largely to what is obviously well thought out scene construction, excellent pacing, Marti Noxon's excellent screenplay and the kind of performance from Colin Farrell that reminds you that he is one of Hollywood's best young actors.

This is the film that should have happened if anyone involved with the Twilight films actually had the balls to make a real film, a film that beautifully and masterfully weaves together humanity, heart, humor and ample doses of true horror. As the film's resident baddie, Colin Farrell chews scenery, swallows it, pukes on it, chews it again and then spits it out. Farrell manages to be both eerie and compelling, frightening and very, very sexy.

One of the best things about Fright Night is that everyone here seems to be having a blast, and it's that kind of authentic energy that you just can't fake in a film. Not only is everyone in on the joke, but they also think it's funny.

Noxon's screenplay, based upon Tom Holland's story, keeps it pretty simple in the framework. Charley's classmates and neighbors are inexplicably disappearing, but Charley's too busy trying to woo the out of his league Amy (Imogen Poots) that he doesn't really notice that much at first.

Of course, that all changes. Things get scarier the more Charley investigates, which leads to his sort of reuniting with Ed, a geek of a friend who he'd mostly tossed to the side after Ed's inner geek becomes a bit too Twilight obsessed. The rest of Fright Night is essentially a battle between Charley and Jerry, a battle that both celebrates the widely recognized rules of fighting vampires while augmenting the rules with contemporary creativity and a whole lot of fun. David Tennant, known to anyone who's a Dr. Who fan, is larger than life awesome as Peter Vincent (fans will get this reference!), star of a Vegas show called "Fright Night" about fighting vampires that is, for the most part, nothing but a farce.

To tell you anything else that unfolds would be unjust, for watching Craig Gillespie build this film is a huge part of the fan. Suffice it to say that Gillespie clearly went into filming with a vision, and he brings that vision marvelously to life. D.P. Javier Aguirresarobe (Goya's Ghosts, New Moon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) lenses the film in a way that is vastly superior to most of the horror that is heaped upon wide release audiences. While it's arguable that the film's 3-D version is unnecessary, especially given the abundance of night time scenes, Aguirresarobe gives the film an atmosphere that absolutely complements and magnifies the horror in a way that, once again, illustrates the difference between true filmmaking and shoddy filmmaking.

In addition to the top notch performances from Farrell and Tennant, Anton Yelchin manages to hold his own against the devilishly delightful Farrell and Christopher Mintz-Plasse again manages to play a variation on his usual nerd routine without having it seem like a retread. Everyone else amongst the supporting players is rock solid.

The consistency in the film between direction, writing, acting and the film's production values is rather amazing and truly rare in the horror genre. Richard Bridgland's production design and Randy Moore's art direction flesh out the film's haunting aura, while Ramin Djawadi's original score manages to embody both the film's lighter moments and the occasional need for a really hard-driving, pulsating rhythm.

With Fright Night, Craig Gillespie proves that he's no mere critical darling and no Hollywood hit-churning machine. Instead, he's a talented filmmaker who is worthy of both critical praise and box-office success. While Fright Night may not be the best film of the summer, with a production budget of right around $17 million it should easily prove to be one of Summer 2011's most pleasant surprises and, if there's any justice in the world, one of the season's biggest box-office winners in terms of profit.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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