Movie Review – Near Dark (1987)
by NIR SHALEV
Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is a farmhand who works with his dad on their ranch. One night, while traveling to the city for a drink he meets a beautiful girl named Mae (Jenny Wright) and they hit it off. As he drives her to her home he finds out that she’s a bit stranger than most girls but he’s actually too distracted by her beauty to notice what’s really the case. At one point he stops the car and refuses to drive her home until she gives him a kiss. She claims that she needs to be home before the sun rises but succumbs to his game and kisses him. Then she bites him on the neck and runs away.
Caleb, suddenly finding it hard to walk in the sunlight, is soon after kidnapped by a family of psychotic, immortal bloodsuckers; Mae’s family to be exact. The patriarch is Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), who hints at having existed since the American Civil War; his lady Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein); the young son Homer (Joshua John Miller), who reminds the family every night what it’s like being a grown man inside a child’s body; Mae; and Severen (Bill Paxton), the psychopath in the family. For obvious reasons they’re not actually a family (they even hunt every night separately), but stick together like one and have done so for what I presume to have been a very long time.
The story of the film follows the daily and nightly activities of the family of immortals from the perspective of Caleb, who must learn to kill and drink blood. The family gives him a week to kill at least one person before they kill him and dump his carcass on the side of the road. Caleb just doesn’t have it in him to murder, although Mae tries to persuade him that it’s not really murder when he needs to do it to live. But alas, Caleb’s just a nice guy.
There’s also the subplot of Caleb’s father and younger sister driving cross country in order to find him but I’ll leave that part alone because it has a big effect on the film’s third act, which is character and action driven.
The cinematography in the film, shot by Adam Greenberg depicts mostly night scenes and some of them can be downright gorgeous. Many of the film’s compositions are gorgeous on their own but the film taking place mostly during the night, always after dusk and sometimes just around day break, generally has a beautiful if not creepy look to it. The film was shot entirely in Arizona and it makes for a beautiful yet bleak experience; we feel awe at the sights of pastures that stretch to infinity but we, paradoxically feel the coldness of forever and mixed in with the main characters’ immortality the film always put the audience in an uneasy place.
The screenplay, co-written by director Kathryn Bigelow was written with as little cliches or exposition as possible, which is why this film had garnered the stamp of cult classic. The word “vampire” is never once mentioned in the entirety of the film, nor do we see fangs, crosses that affect vampires, wooden stakes, holy water, or holy men for that matter. Bigelow had basically taken the vampire rule book and thrown it out the window. These vampires can be killed only by sunlight and they can also heal quickly, have immense strength, and usually go for the throat because they need to drink blood in order to live. That’s it for rules.
The vampire family also lacks a background, which is essential for the film’s success. We don’t know how long any of them had been around or for how long any of them had known each other. We don’t know any of their individual backgrounds and we don’t know what the future will hold for any of them. This is not a romanticized version of vampires, a la Twilight. These vampires are monstrous in their murderous behavior and they have a serious attitude problem.
What I love about this film is the bleakness of it through its cinematography and also the way that it evokes the feeling of eternity. It shows its bleakness through the repetitive nature of the family’s lifestyle (stealing a new vehicle every few days, stealing money but using it to stay at motels and the like). The performances go for a mixture of theatrics and realistic minimalism. Lance Henriksen’s expressive face, eyes never blinking, and the way that some low level shots bathe him with sinister lighting is enough to creep out an audience all on its own. He doesn’t even need to move.
And last but not least, the soundtrack for Near Dark is performed by Tangerine Dream, whose electronic, atmospheric melodies were famous throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Here they manage to capture that American wasteland feeling by playing melancholy, electronic based, rock influenced music to the most serene yet depressing imagery of pastures. It works very well in terms of reminding us of that certain melancholic emptiness that is found in living eternally.
Would I choose immortality? Honestly, it would entirely depend on the decade that I would start it in. If I had to choose it now, I’d say no. I would choose a reverse immortality, one that would take me through the centuries backwards; through the Renaissance, middle and dark ages, prehistory, and all the way until there’d be nothing left, before anything has had time to happen.
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Daybreakers was a less successful attempt to do something different with the vampire subgenre.