“Women who look a certain way need to be managed,” says the libidinous vampire Jerry (Colin Farrell), a vagrant killer in a vagrant land, to his nascent next-door neighbor, Andy Brewster (Anton Yelchin), as he tries to weasel his way into the teen’s home. Farrell speaks the line with the conviction of someone who believes it—and if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing the actor’s sex tape, you know he does. Indeed, one of the minor triumphs of this Fright Night remake is Farrell’s coolly assured performance, a cocksure spectacle of masculine virility far more intimidating to his character’s victims, male and female alike, than the razor-sharp fangs Jerry uses to munch on human neck meat.
This new Fright Night, though it closely and lazily hews to the original’s plot, attempts a state-of-our-union address by playing out on a strip of Sin City suburban wasteland where nearly every home seems to have a Century 21 sign staked—wink, wink—to its lawn. Jerry’s identity as a vampire is doubted by Andy’s mother (Toni Collette) and girlfriend (Imogen Poots), but quickly accepted after the ghoul makes a conspicuous show of his superhuman might; few seek justification for his existence, either because they subscribe to HBO or because Jerry’s bloodsucking ways aren’t exactly out of place in the foreclosure capital of America. It’s the perfect place for a vampire to roost because, as one character tries to explain the mystery behind a series of missing families, “No one lives in Vegas, they just pass through.”
But the film pales next to Matt Reeves’s poetic Let Me In, a cannier, more sensitive conflation of the personal and the political. Fright Night, despite some unexpected cultural observations and insights into its male protagonist’s sexual insecurities, is very much a product of our time. It’s a post-converted 3D reboot that, while superior to the original, exists mostly to show off how far advances in makeup, hair, and special effects have come since the year of Sloth, Wham!, and Marty McFly. Of course, it also exists to showcase the sad state of our generation’s hero worship and modern Hollywood’s cowardly capitulation to political correctness.
We didn’t need another hero back in 1985 because the ones we had were more than enough; they were actually cool. The original vampire-killing Peter Vincent was played by Roddy McDowall as an homage to the heroes of countless Hammer films of yore, a relic poignantly hankering for validation. In the nostalgia-free remake, Peter is an integrity-less Dave-Navarro-meets-David-Copperfield showman who’s less instrumental to Andy’s anti-Jerry crusade and whose faith in vampires is an afterthought to David Tennant’s Russell Brandian overexcitement.
Tennant’s shrillness is almost on par with that of Stephen Geoffreys’s original Ed, here played with amusing clarity by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose transformation into a vampire in a scene fascinatingly evocative of a baptism isn’t staged as a mere spectacle of revenge-of-the-nerd triumphalism. Andy’s final confrontation with Ed more accurately suggests a reckoning with the past—payback for turning his back on a friend and pimping himself out to the popular kids. Cool stuff, but like much of this briskly paced but wishy-washy film, Andy’s enlightenment is only half-realized, understood by the audience but insufficiently felt by the character, not unlike the strange, out-of-time means by which James Franco’s hot younger bro pays tribute to the original film’s casually relentless homophobia by calling Andy “my little pony.” Kids in the movies today.