Movie Review: Near Dark, 1987

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Another one marked off the Horror Homework list (also my Chase Homework, but it is super unclear to me how Near Dark qualifies as a chase film, shame on you flickchart!), and another movie I was excited to see based on reputation that left me wanting.

Kathryn Bigelow has come a long, long way as a filmmaker. The Hurt Locker is an incredible film that offers no easy answers to the complicated issues it addresses. It is an admirable film from a great director that has had a fascinating career. One that apparently began on very shaky footing.

Near Dark is sort of a Western/Vampire/Shakespeare mash-up that was clearly an influence on a lot of other (in my opinion better) pop culture like Preacher and Buffy. It’s the story of star-crossed lovers (whose love for one another has little to no justification) torn between the allure of Vampirism and the stability of family. Along the way there are bar fights, chases on horseback, exploding trucks, and a bonkers Bill Paxton performance. If it sounds like a James Cameron movie that’s because his influence on Bigelow and vice versa is abundantly clear here. They would be married two years after this film’s release, but it seems clear they were very aware of each others work leading up to their meeting (this is obviously speculation on my part). If I had to give this movie a log line I’d say it’s The Terminator of Vampire movies; The Vampinator. But that would be giving it a bit too much credit.

If I’m being honest, I can’t put my finger on why Near Dark didn’t work for me. It simply didn’t. It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s fun, it’s romantic, it’s violent, it’s a lot of things I love in my movies, but it is rarely keeping me interested. If I had to point somewhere it might be at the two leads who seem like they’re on the set of a high school play while everyone around them is playing it like they’re on the set of an epic blockbuster. Or maybe it’s the haphazard editing that leads to things like multiple wipes within seconds of each other, simply revealing the same feet walking over different dirt over and over and over. Perhaps it’s the weird mixture of natural and artificial light used, seemingly with no thought to how shots would connect the two. Or maybe it’s just that the story isn’t all that interesting overall. Or maybe this just isn’t my cup of tea.

That being said, there are some beautiful shots in Near Dark that show the promise of the filmmaker to come. Many of the best shots are simply low angles of our characters walking through neon lit, wet streets, the light reflecting off puddles as they walk over them. And something about the way Bigelow captures these shots makes them feel very in the moment, like she discovered something beautiful in her lens by sheer chance and knew exactly what to do with it. Unfortunately her eye for action at this point in her career didn’t fair as well. I’m not sure how intentional the pace of the action scenes are, but boy are they slow. And she rarely captures a moment of impact well, making any of the cool ideas she does come up with underwhelming.

As a final note, I think there are some really interesting things that Bigelow brings to this project that we likely wouldn’t have gotten with a male filmmaker. The main character having to feed off of his female counterpart who does all the actual hard work is a pretty incredible illustration of how women can feel in relationships with exploitative, selfish men. There is even a bit of a rapey vibe he gives off in the opening scenes (which get turned on their head when he is taken against his will, so to speak, which is an interesting reversal that could probably fuel a college thesis or two) and is then reflected again after he feeds off of her. That may be the one thing this movie is doing that I found fascinating – using Vampires to reverse the gender roles that are normally assumed in a rape to show men what it is like to be victimized. Or at least, I assume that’s what she’s trying to do, it’s a bit unclear in the muddied waters that are this movie.

Overall, I was left disappointed, but perhaps that’s a few decades of hype’s fault. It’s certainly not a bad movie, it just didn’t stand out to me. Aside from the brilliant, Bill Murray-esque delivery by Bill Paxton during the poker scene, which I will leave as my sign off.

“We keep odd hours!”

Near Dark scored: ★★☆☆☆

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