Fright Night


Poster for Fright NightFright Night has come to the American desert.


It isn’t hard to understand why vampires would pick the American Southwest to try to flip a home. The news tells us that the dream is dead and that the fantastic fictions that have sustained us since the late 1980s have finally snapped shut. It’s almost natural to imagine the unnatural staking their ground in what we have deserted.


Which is all to say that it’s no coincidence that this summer’s remake of the 1985 cult film Fright Night takes place in Las Vegas. When Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), the teenaged hero of the film, tries to convince Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a Criss Angel-style performer, that Vegas is perfect for the undead because nobody lives there anymore, he is also critiquing an America already vanishing in front of his eyes.


The suburbs have been depopulated and those who still live there cling on to life with a sort of desperation. Charlie and his divorced mother Jane (Toni Collette) try to maintain the fiction that life is moving ahead when it has largely come to an end. Jane’s real estate business is floundering, her husband is a distant memory and there are no other prospects in sight, and Charlie seems to have no greater dream than to consummate his love with his popular girlfriend, played by Imogen Poots.


Life is caught in a standstill where all forces opposing each other are bad: Jane can’t meet another man because she is stuck in Vegas and new men aren’t coming to the city because the real estate bubble has burst. And Jane cannot escape Vegas because the real estate bubble has burst… There is a kind of circularity to their lives that leads to a feeling of inevitable doom until a hunky middle-aged vampire moves in next door.


Jerry – played phenomenally by Colin Farrell – is at once the articulation of Charlie and his mother’s secret desire (for love, for fatherhood, for a parental figure who does actual work and has actual money) and their absolute negative. Jane fears that he is exactly what she wants and precisely what she doesn’t need – another man – but he is much more. Prowling the streets of their tiny sub-development with supreme self-assurance, very much a man confident of his physical and sexual being, in many ways Jerry is the perfect tenant to the dead city. He epitomizes both its hubris and its destruction.


Both Jane and Charlie’s girlfriend are, at first, taken in by Jerry, but Charlie sees through the act, partially because he has a secret himself and knows how to spot them in others. Although he’s achieved some status in high school, he lives in fear that his past as a nerd will catch up with him. His creepy old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), threatens to expose him to his new, cooler friends, and as luck would have it Ed is a bit of a vampire nut. Because he is a former geek, Charlie can see into Jerry’s secret closets and see that he, too, is not what he seems.
Unfortunately, spotting the undead means that you are probably part undead yourself and Jerry knows that Charlie is onto his secret.


He sniffs the air around Charlie and says that he can smell his neglect and failure. This scent is, in some ways, his secret nerd background, but it also reaches far back into his parents’ failed marriage and the broken dreams that have led the family to the invented city. If the suburban dream of the Southwest has been life intensified – of Sun Cities that burn so bright that even death can’t cast a shadow there – the new dark city symbolizes economic and physical collapse.


Las Vegas is in many respects a city after the fall, populated with nocturnal and shadowy figures. Abandoned and lost, a designed landscape economically deconstructed by the real estate disaster, it is a ghost town looking for ghosts. Until then buildings stand boarded up and homes are deserted. Characters run through the labyrinthine back yards the once connected the city, stumbling into homes that are not only husks of their formers selves.


There are really two stars of Fight Night: Farrell, who literally devours every scene he is in, and Vegas itself. The rest of the cast members are fine with the exception of David Tennant as Peter Vincent. Maybe he pales in comparison to Roddy McDowall, who played his corresponding part in the 1985 film, or maybe he pales in comparison to all the other stock characters he’s mimicking – Criss Angel, pirate Jack Sparrow, Keith Richards, etc… – but I just felt he was a bit lacking.


Fright Night is fun, but it’s also terrifying. It not only reveals the big empty spaces that we used to fill with dreams, but also shows how our dreams were always already the nightmares they’ve become.


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