Some of the most chilling visuals in Fright Night—a new remake of Tom Holland’s well-liked, self-aware 1985 vampire movie—come not when the blood starts spurting and the stakes start flying, but from the images of a desolate suburban oasis that appear near the opening of the film. Just a few uniform blocks surrounded by desert, darkness, and the distant lights of Las Vegas, the setting suggests a nice, normal place where unspeakable things could transpire without the world at large noticing—and where those directly affected might be too dulled by the blanketing blandness to save themselves.
That’s more or less what happens when a nice high-school kid (Anton Yelchin) fails to suspect that his new next-door neighbor (Colin Farrell) might be the reason so many fellow students have stopped showing up for school in the morning. To be fair, he has his reasons for not noticing. Too distracted by the pressure of dating a classmate (Imogen Poots) above his social station, Yelchin ignores the warnings of his one-time best friend Christopher Mintz-Plasse, an unrepentant nerd who’s had his eye on Farrell for a while and has come to a chilling conclusion: “He’s the fucking shark from Jaws.” Trouble is, Farrell has had his eye out, too.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl) from a screenplay by Marti Noxon, a Buffy The Vampire Slayer veteran, Fright Night works reasonably well as a scary movie. Though some of his work gets muddied in 3-D, Gillespie knows how to stage shocks, gore, and action sequences—including a long car chase that borrows liberally from a famous scene in Children Of Men. But the film’s greatest pleasures come from Noxon’s script—which puts the sexual chaos created by Farrell’s attractive bloodsucker front and center—and from the performances. Former Doctor Who star David Tennant has a plum role as a Criss Angel-like Vegas cheeseball whose vampire-themed stage show might hide a special connection to vampire lore. It’s a big, fun performance overshadowed only by Farrell, who plays his character as a monster who’s learned to use an ordinary-dude exterior to blend in with his new surroundings. When he asks Yelchin for a “sixer,” Farrell delivers his lines with a Matt Dillon-like flatness, but his eyes tell another story: Beneath the surface, he’s all coiled hunger and pitiless manipulation, doing what he has to do to get close to victims who, against their better judgment, want to get close to him. He creates almost unbearable tension by doing virtually nothing at all, and though Fright Night eventually reveals him as the vampire equivalent of the fucking shark from Jaws, it’s never better than when it lets him poke his fin just above the surface.