' ' Cinema Romantico: Near Dark

Friday, February 19, 2010

Near Dark

Kathryn Bigelow's third feature film (from 1987) is a deeply atmospheric story of a handsome, young Oklahoman (Adrian Pasdar) who unwittingly falls in with a small gang of vampires that troll the rural, dusty prairies of Americana. But do you know what one word "Near Dark" never employs even a single time during its 90+ minutes?


Re-fresh-ing. No one sits down and chit chats about vampirical lore or causes and reasons and weaknesses. I am fairly certain I never saw a cross. There is nothing ironic or tacky at work here. "Near Dark" is stunningly matter of fact about its outlandish premise even with its striking photography and an evocative score by Tangerine Dream.

The opening fifteen minutes oozes such eerie ambience I watched it a second time before I finished the rest of the movie. Pasdar's Caleb exits a bar, exchanges a few words with his redneck buddies and then glimpses the winsome Mae (Jenny Wright) tantalizingly eating an ice cream cone if for no other reason than it allows her to tantalizingly eat an ice cream cone. Caleb approaches. They get in her truck. She makes him stop. She says something about "feeling the night." It's a moment heightened to just the right degree. He shows her a surprise but this surprise means the night gets late and as the night gets late the sun begins to rise and as the sun begins to rise Mae freaks out because, well, if you're a vampire and the sun begins to rise you know what happens. Caleb says he won't take her home without a kiss - just one, that's all. And he gets it. Boy, does he get it. A kiss and a bite. On his neck. She runs off. He staggers home, turning into that word which is never mentioned, not knowing what's happening to him, and as his father and sister watch him struggle a roughed-up winnebago swoops in and swoops up Caleb.

The winnebago is occupied by our vampire regiment (which, strangely, resembles a regiment of marines from a film called "Aliens"): Lance Henriksen's Jesse is in charge, and has apparently been around since the Civil War. Severen is kinda the nutso one because he's played by Bill Paxton. Jenette Goldstein is Diamondback and Joshua Miller is Homer, an old soul tucked away inside a boy's body. They hide out during the day and roam at night, finding people on which they can feed to keep their existences percolating.

Everyone else in the group is immediately suspicious of Caleb. Perhaps because they are not so much a group as a family (a fact you realize without Bigelow ever making it explicit). They tell him he needs to make a "kill", and soon, or they will kill him. Meanwhile Caleb's father, distrusting of the local police on the case, lights out after his son.

The story of "Near Dark" is beautifully linear. No embellishments, no intellectual musings on "what I've become." The decisions Caleb makes at each point feel entirely realistic within this movie's specific universe. He tries to get home. He can't. He refuses to make the "kill" the others demand. He and Mae grow very sympathetic for one another. His and the others lives are threatened and then, and only then, does he act. Even the moment in which he takes to main street astride a horse does not come across as ludicrous as it does here in print because Bigelow smartly neither downplays nor overdoes it.

I like a film that doesn't forcefeed the message it yearns to send and the resignation that would certainly factor into "Near Dark's" conclusion is not hammered home. It is sensed simply in the way in which the third act events play out. And to contrast that linear storytelling Bigelow revels in Sunkist orange suns slipping to and fro behind the horizon, a trail of dust kicked up behind Caleb as he unsuccessfully attempts to navigate his way home, a slow dance meant to proceed a grisly death, the frightful jangle of the spurs on Severen's boots.

Here is an action/horror movie that shows how it should be done, how you can pay the utmost attention to the image without sacrificing, ruining or overplaying the story.

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