There's a scene between Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell in Fright Night which already feels like a classic.
Yelchin plays a teenage boy who lives in a toy-town Las Vegas suburb with his single mother, Toni Collette. Farrell is a hunky construction worker who has moved in next door. One evening when Collette is out, Farrell pops over to borrow some beers – but Yelchin suspects his new neighbour could be a vampire. According to vampire lore, Farrell can't cross the threshold unless Yelchin invites him in, so the pair have a spine-tinglingly tense conversation in which Yelchin tries to keep calm as he fetches the beers, and Farrell – teasing, confident, but with the twitchiness of a hungry animal – tries to talk his way into the house. It's a funny, scary, layered exchange which the rest of the film doesn't quite live up to.
A remake of 1985's Fright Night, this version was scripted by Marti Noxon, a screenwriter who cut her pointy teeth on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, and it has the trademarked Buffy blend of horror and knowing comedy, as well as the Buffy-ish insight that being popular at school can seem as imperative as repelling immortal bloodsuckers. What makes the early scenes such a pleasure is that Yelchin isn't just afraid of his neighbour; he's afraid that if he goes out vampire-hunting with Christopher Mintz-Plasse – a childhood friend he ditched for being too geeky – he'll lose his playground status, as well as his out-of-his-league girlfriend, Imogen Poots (a British actress with an immaculate American accent). Even his fear of Farrell is tangled up with the worry that, undead or not, this cocksure stranger might still seduce his mother.
For its first half, Fright Night is very well-crafted fun. And, like last month's Super 8, it has the Spielbergian sparkle that results from authentic teenagers stumbling across weird goings-on in suburbia. It's a shame it doesn't stay on the threshold between the real world and the supernatural for longer. All too soon, Collette and Poots learn the truth about Farrell, and the film becomes a straightforwardly gory action movie about a super-powered villain chasing his victims around Las Vegas. It's still entertaining, especially when David Tennant swans in as a dissolute Cockney stage magician (presumably Russell Brand was busy), but it loses something once it gets out of high school and the suburbs, and into more conventional horror-comedy territory.
The Art of Getting By features another nerdy boy with a gorgeous blonde girlfriend – why are male film directors so drawn to such characters, do you think? The nerdy boy is Freddie Highmore, who's in his last year at a New York high school, but who never hands in any of his course work. We're all going to die eventually, he reasons, so what's the point? Yes, he is as painful as that suggests. What's more painful is that the film buys into this little twerp's pseudo-intellectual angst, making full use of grainy handheld camerawork and earnest, sub-U2 wimp-rock songs to remind us how deep he is. It's not easy being this self-important, the film tells us, even if your know-it-all slacking is rewarded by the flirty interest of the school beauty queen, Emma Roberts, and the awed indulgence of your teachers.
A big problem is the miscasting of the lead role. Highmore has had a stellar career as one of Britain's best child actors, but even now that he's in his late teens, with the growth spurt to prove it, he's in no way the disaffected Holden Caulfield that Roberts might go for. The character needs attitude and wit – in a word, sexiness – but Highmore remains a weedy Brit who seems years younger than the classmates he's supposedly too wise to relate to. Still, whoever played the role, it was always going to be hard to stomach an 18-year-old who's already looking back wistfully at his childhood. "I was overwhelmed by sadness when I realised I was going to change," he says. If a vampire had moved in next door, it would have been the best thing for him.
Nicholas Barber sees whether Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender can deliver the full Brontë in Jane Eyre
Also Showing: 04/09/2011
Attenberg (95 mins, 18)
This Greek curio shares its key personnel with last year's Dogtooth, but it's too obscure to be a similar crossover hit. In love with its own downbeat surrealism, it's a series of disconnected conversations involving a withdrawn young David Attenborough fan (Ariane Labed) who has no interest in sex, but who takes her clothes off surprisingly often all the same.
Weekender (90 mins, 15)
Sorted for Es and whiz? You'll need to be to stay awake during this clumsy indie Britflick about the birth of rave culture. A pair of Mancunian chancers graduate from robbing cigarette machines to running warehouse club nights with incredible ease, but if their parties were as small and ill-attended in real life as they look in the film, they would never have got anywhere.
The Dead (101 mins, 18)
It's not unusual for fledgling British directors to make zombie movies, but it's less common for them to shoot them in the more lawless and malarial parts of Africa. Location aside, through, there's not much to recommend this snoozy Romero wannabe, which shambles along at a suitably zombie-ish pace.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (110 mins, 18)
This bizarre soft-porn period drama from Hong Kong veers between wacky comedy, loathsome violence, and a tearful final message that it's not sex but love that matters. Still, audiences attracted by its title will get what they paid for.
Pedro Almodovar returns with The Skin I Live In, a lurid and luscious tale of sex, imprisonment, surgery and glamour – a nip'n'tuck tale with a twist. And at London's BFI Southbank, a 75th birthday celebration of the most radical of national treasures, Ken Loach, with a retrospective which includes screenings of Poor Cow and Kes (to 12 Oct).