In post-real-estate-crash Las Vegas, a suburban neighborhood is tormented by a vampire named Jerry in Fright Night, a fun monster movie.
Jerry (Colin Farrell) has just moved in next to teenaged Charley (Anton Yelchin) and his real estate agent mother Jane (Toni Collette). Jane is curious about her new neighbor, particularly since he’s had a dumpster filled with concrete sitting out in front of his house for weeks. He’s not building a pool, she says; what is he doing? Eventually she meets Jerry and decides after seeing his arm muscles and six-pack abs that she doesn’t much care what he’s doing and maybe she’d like to have a drink with him. Even Amy (Imogen Poots), Charley’s girlfriend, recognizes the hotness of Jerry (and he gives her the once-over as well).
All of this makes Charley — a guy just barely hanging on to newfound social acceptance after a lifetime of being a geek — a little nervous, even before his dorky former buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) theorizes that Jerry might be a vampire. Look, he says showing Charley a map he made up with Adam (Will Denton), another nerdy friend Charley left behind. The map shows a cluster of missing students and their families, with Jerry’s house right in the middle. Charley and Ed go to Adam’s house to search for him and find nothing — so Charley pooh-poohs the theory and goes home. But the next day, Ed turns up missing. Charley digs a little more and finds evidence on Ed’s computer that suggests maybe Jerry really is a bloodsucking undead apex predator. (Just like a shark, Ed says, a point underlined later when we get a good look at Jerry’s teeth.)
Here’s what’s delightful about Fright Night (in addition to the fact that the vampire is named Jerry instead of, say, Edward Cullen or Lestat or some other dreamier vampire name): the movie doesn’t spend a lot of time with the “is he or isn’t he a vampire?” question. Nor does it spend a lot of time making Amy and Jane go through the motions of “Vampire? don’t be crazy, there’s no such thing.” Very quickly we get from some vampire-detective work into the world of vampire slaying. And to that end, we meet Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a razzamatazz Vegas magician whose show features some very hammy vampire-related stuff but who, deep down, is more familiar with this dark world than he wants people to know. The character is very fun — a mix of sexy swagger and occult scholarship and con-artist.
This is the part where I say that in the world of recent vampire fare, what this movie resembles most is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an obvious comparison in part because the movie’s author is Marti Noxon, a not completely beloved but very integral part of the Buffy world behind the scenes. This movie captures a lot of that show’s sense of fun and rather lighthanded use of camp but not — don’t worry, Buffy haters — any of that show’s more messagey elements. Here, we have a kid protecting his girlfriend and his mother from a vampire and, sure, you can read into it other things about recession and suburbia and teenhood, but the central story is pretty much just man versus monster.
And what a monster — Farrell is great as this kind of villain. He has fun but he is, as this breed of vampire is supposed to be, all about the feed. Jerry isn’t some tortured poet yearning for love or his soul — he’s a guy who likes to eat, often. Farrell has fun with this, just as both Tennant and Yelchin seem to have fun with being monster-hunters. Even Toni Collette, usually in meatier fare, seems loose and giddy with her role.
Fright Night isn’t going to keep you up at night but it has a lot of classic horror touches that make it a solid monster movie story. B
Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references. Directed by Craig Gillespie with a screenplay by Marti Noxon, Fright Night is two hours long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture.