Monday, February 22, 2010

Review - Near Dark (1987)

“Howdy. I'm gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don't mind none.”

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
Screenplay: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red

Plot: Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) meets Mae (Jenny Wright) one night and in short time is starting to fall for her. A kiss, leads to a bite and soon Caleb is changed and flung into Mae’s world which includes her surrogate family lead by Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen). Caleb will gain a taste for blood, he will learn to fear the sun, and most importantly he will live forever.

With Kathryn Bigelow up for an Oscar thanks to her movie Hurt Locker, I thought I would take a look at her take on vampires. This is considered a classic by many and is one of my favourite depictions of the vampire mythos. In this film the vampires are wanderers, constantly moving so as not to get caught and yet they have managed to create a family. It’s this family unit that for me is the most interesting part of the entire movie. These vampires are monsters, a certain bar scene that I won’t get into to much detail really emphasises the inhumanity of the group, and yet they are loyal to each other, they love each other and show traits that are all too familiar to humans.

By making the group close knit with genuine emotions we can buy that Mae loves Caleb, and it’s this love that develops between the two that drives the movie forward. Yet the love between the two is not shoved down our throats, they have scenes together but more is show rather than told. Mae holding on to Caleb in the background as other characters are doing their thing, glances, it is this subtlety that gives this love story more impact than most vampire movies that deal with this story. Not mentioning any names though.

Acting wise it’s pretty solid all around. I think big props have to go to Jenny Wright as Mae. With the other vampires I will say it was easier for them to revel in the darkness of being a vampire. Yet Mae has to come off sympathetic to the audience and yet different enough to not be considered human. This comes through in an almost fae way. Some of her earlier scenes she tries to describe the night to Caleb, just her delivery which comes off as a childish fascination is enough to lend her an otherworldly appeal. I also love Lance Henriksen as Jesse and Bill Paxton as Severen; these two basically give us the monstrous side of vampires. Lance is a bit more restrained as the father figure but can be imposing with just a glance. Paxton is just having a ball as Severen and you can’t help but smile at the chaos that is the character.

I’ve heard the visuals of this movie once described as poetry, I wouldn’t go that far but Bigelow certainly knows how to make a movie look beautiful. It’s funny to think how brutal these vampires are, how violent some of the scenes can get, and yet in the quieter scenes moments of beauty can occur. It’s all thanks to the focus Bigelow has, she knows what she wants and how to get the most out of her vision.

Also visually both night and day have a different feel and it seems to me that they are both set up to represent the species that are linked with the times. Day is shot in red and orange tones, making the most of sunset and sunrise; the day seems to thrive with heat and more importantly life. Night on the other hand keeps close to blue tones and comes across colder and more suitable for creatures without a pulse. There are also individual shots that seem to really stick with me. One of those is at the end of the movie as we have Caleb riding on a horse at night with lightning occurring. Just the atmosphere that is generated in the brief moment can bring chills to me.

Kathryn Bigelow has created a vampire movie that has both a potent love story, and vampires that are unique at least in films. There is a romantic nature to vampires but there is also a savage side and this movie shows both. If you are into vampire movies then I would highly recommend seeing this if you haven’t already. As it stands this is my go to movie when I want to watch a vampire film; to this day it still has the same hold over me as it did the first time I watched.

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