Is there such a thing as a successful remake anymore? After seeing Fright Night the answer is (surprisingly) a resounding “Yes.” Craig Gillespie’s shiny reimagining of the 1985 kitsch classic is very much its own movie but like any good spawn it doesn’t forget where it came from.
The film’s plot is not born of a novel concept. Las Vegas teenager Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is doing just fine. He managed to shake his nerd image he’s got a hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and he even puts the de facto cool kids to shame on occasion. Life’s pretty great until he meets the neighbor: Jerry (Colin Farrell). People are disappearing and Charlie’s old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has a theory: Jerry’s a vampire. Armed with only the vampirical evidence doled out by Criss Angel reincarnate Peter Vincent (David Tennant) Charlie is forced to defend himself his mother (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend from the silver pointy clutches of Jerry the vampire’s endless blood-lust. And a suspenseful hilarious time ensues.
Fright Night is successful in large part because it keeps things simple. Charlie: good. Jerry: 16 shades of blood-curdling evil. Game set match. It’s scary and gory with a dash of humor – essentially a good old-fashioned senseless horror flick with a glossy big-budget cover. It’s cleverly self-aware and expends great effort to lend a sense of quality to something that promises to be nothing more than a bloody slasher flick. But the bottom line is that it works.
And the cast is big part of that. Farrell’s bloodsucker is the antidote our Twilight-riddled generation so desperately needs; this is what vampires are supposed to be. His twitchy growling yet somehow seductive vampire successfully strikes a precarious balance along the sexy-scary line and while the role doesn’t demand a great deal of Farrell's talent he’s fully committed to his psychotic relentlessly violent character and the result is deliciously despicable.
As for our band of plucky good guys Yelchin is perfectly adequate as our hero. He’s likeable he’s trustworthy and he holds his own amongst onscreen presences that threaten to drown him – Mintz-Plasse Farrell and Tennant are tough acts to outshine. Collette is generally wasted – anyone could play her part but she does what she can with the material she’s dealt. Poots really shines here; it’s almost surprising that she’s able to bring such much power to the typical girlfriend role but she manages to make her character more than just a love interest. But of course the one man who stands above the entire cast is Tennant who’s all but eliminated from the trailers for the film. The former Doctor Who star jumps into the mainstream as Peter Vincent Las Vegas performer and vampire expert extraordinaire and every minute he’s onscreen is comedy gold. His timing delivery stature and expressions are all pitch perfect. His performance alone is worth giving Fright Night two hours of your time.
Of course Gillespie makes some very stark choices with the film. The dark scenes are almost too dark; it takes a few scenes to adjust to the lighting much like being suddenly shut in a dark room. And while it’s probably not great for anyone’s ocular health it really heightens the element of fear. Then there’s the element of 3-D which is thoroughly used throughout. At first it borders on schlocky but when the vampy action gets going everything from blood to holy water to fire comes bursting out of the screen and lends an enjoyable but decidedly B-movie flair to the whole ordeal.
While the story wheels out of control leans heavily on ridiculously convenient solutions and generally has only two goals – fear and bloodshed – the film itself is so much fun that those elements don’t really matter. If you’re looking for something to stimulate your intellect run like hell from this movie but if you want two hours of unadulterated messy creepy fun look no further than Fright Night.
For the first several minutes of There Will Be Blood--just a small portion of its 160--there is no dialogue. Then Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) strikes oil. The year is 1898 and as time jumps ahead Plainview is soon no longer struggling to make ends meet. By the turn of the 20th century the oil prospector is something of a traveling salesman in California getting local farmers to give up their land so he can drill with his young adopted son/gimmick (Dillon Freasier) in tow. Until that is he stumbles upon a goldmine: a rural farm teeming with oil just beneath it. He promises to make the landowners the Sunday family as rich as he himself will become as a result. But the landowner’s teenage son Eli (Paul Dano) a highly religious evangelist doesn’t much care for money. In fact he doesn’t much care for Daniel his motives or his ungodliness and looks to cure him of these ills at which Daniel scoffs. The two clash on more than one occasion before not seeing each other for a while. At the end of the movie the year is 1927. Daniel is now a madman oil tycoon/recluse living off of his riches and exploitations stumbling about his oil-made mansion with alcohol in hand. He’s a shred of his former self only much wealthier. In walks his old buddy/adversary Eli who sobers him right up. As complicated a thespian god as Daniel Day-Lewis has always been in his career his acting skill has been consistently and easily the best. Every performance of his is great to the same degree and Daniel Plainview a character unlike any he has ever played is no exception. The actor known for his long breaks between movies and his Method-like transformations is so powerful here that his performance is as responsible for the tone as any of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. Day-Lewis can often be heard delivering diatribes on humanity in There Will Be Blood typically while sporting a devilish grin more disturbing than the film’s most violent scenes. It makes you wonder: Who would even want to go so deep into a character so dark? But the minutiae of Plainview--the walk the demeanor the misanthropy--round out Day-Lewis’ incredible performance more than the spoken words. Young actor Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) is equally intense as Plainview’s pious opponent/lightning rod and maybe more--maybe just maybe his innermost demon. It’s a performance worthy of a Supporting Actor nod but ultimately this is Day-Lewis’ show. There Will Be Blood is the cliché of an auteur fighting for his art as evidenced by its length and obtuseness; otherwise though it is the anti-cliché (and anti-crowd pleaser). For that we can thank--yes thank--Paul Thomas Anderson who as his three other well-known films (Boogie Nights Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love) hinted was probably dying for a film of this limitless grandeur. While Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! could be seen as a veiled allegorical wink to modernism it’s really a story about an oilman the money that his oil hath wrought and the demons that swirl around him and his religious detractors. Anderson the genius writer has conjured up a tale of evil family and greed as well as a religiosity/secularism push/pull that is at once opaque and crystal clear. Anderson the genius director frames a story that is beautiful and horrifying neither of which is ever mutually exclusive. The highly deliberate writer-director clearly values quality over quantity and he got both out of this movie an epic masterpiece in a career so young. There Will Be Blood also has this year’s far-and-away best score from Radiohead guitarist/electronics mastermind Jonny Greenwood which fills in any empty spots of weirdness and/or tension left vacant by Anderson and maximizes such spots elsewhere. Anderson now has shot to the No. 1 spot on the Hollywood-outlaw list with this absolute non-adventure of epic proportions. He is utterly unconcerned with any sort of expectations--from audiences or studios. Hell you could even call it a bit of a f-you to everyone except his fans and cinephiles. Congrats PTA!
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) doesn't like to call attention to himself. He flies under the radar of his small town only leaving his garage apartment to go to church and work. He's not much of a conversationalist in general and talking to women--even sweet co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner)--leaves him utterly tongue-tied. Until the advent of Bianca that is. Long-limbed silken-haired and angelically selfless Bianca is also a mail-order sex doll. But to Lars she's the living breathing embodiment of his feminine ideal. After local doctor Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) pronounces Lars delusional and advises his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) to humor him until he works through whatever issues have prompted his break from reality the whole town gets on board accepting Bianca as one of their own to help make Lars happy. Gosling--who's earned a reputation as one of the best actors of his generation in films as diverse as The Notebook and Half Nelson--continues his streak of impressive performances in Lars. Tremulous tentative and tenderhearted Gosling ensures that Lars is never ridiculous...which isn't an easy feat when you're having imaginary conversations with an inanimate latex mannequin. You can see why everyone wants to help/humor him; crushing Lars' happiness would be like swatting a scared puppy with a newspaper. But Lars isn't the only character in the movie; he's surrounded by several excellent "real girls." Clarkson is both confident and vulnerable as Dagmar offering Lars the infinite patience and understanding he needs; Mortimer is earnest and funny as Karin; and Garner is charmingly authentic (and impressively understanding) as ever-hopeful Margo. It would be all too easy for a movie like Lars and the Real Girl to fall victim to its own quirkiness. But director Craig Gillespie--in his feature-film debut--keeps things just grounded enough to be believable. Somehow you buy the fact that the townspeople would not only accept but embrace Bianca. A lot of that is thanks to the talented cast and writer Nancy Oliver's script which balances moments of silly humor and absurdity with scenes of heartfelt drama (her time as a scribe on Six Feet Under probably helped in that regard). But Gillespie deserves credit too. Like its hero Lars isn't perfect--it feels a bit long and the central concept may be just a little too off-beat for some--but it has a good heart and means well and you'll want to stick around to see how it turns out.