Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Microreview [film]: Near Dark

The Meat

A small-town kid tired of the tedium of a hum-drum daily life meets an attractive vampire, falls in love, and gets "converted," only to find peril when the other vampires aren't exactly welcoming. Maybe this sounds familiar. Maybe it sounds like Twilight. Because it's pretty much Twilight.

On almost every conceivable level, though, Near Dark is much, much better than Twilight. It marks the directorial debut of Katherine Bigelow (Oscar-winner for The Hurt Locker), and its Western-Horror-Romance genre mash-up remains effective 25 years after its first release, even though we've seen countless derivations of a similar formula since. You've got your young, sexy conflicted vampire that sucks a stranger into her world of darkness (pun intended), and grim consequences ensue. Local teenager and family ranch-hand Caleb meets Mae, a beautiful stranger he takes for a late-night drive. Mae is a vampire of relatively recent vintage, and doesn't feel much connection with the violent, vengeful gang of vampires that she belongs to. She converts Caleb without his knowledge, and has to prevent her gang (led by sci-fi staple Lance Henriksen) from immediately killing him, promising that Caleb will learn to hunt and kill on his own. But can he really...?

What's nice is the lack of any whiny teen-angsty stuff to color the proceedings. In its place is a genuine sense of loss, especially when it comes to Homer, the child vampire that longs for someone to relate to. That struggle presages the lovely work of then-unknown Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire a few years later. The sense of family feels true-to-life, Caleb's desperation and confusion after his transformation feels more legitimate than many other movies' handling of the same idea, and the tension in scenes where the vampire gang makes their kills is appropriately taut. The Twilight comparisons these days are inevitable when watching Near Dark, but what this movie has and I always felt that other saga sorely lacked is a real, human heart at its core.

And that's important. We're dealing with blood here.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for one of Bill Paxton's more energetic performances; +1 for never once actually using the word "vampire."

Penalties: -1 for the dubious method of resolving everything at the end.

Cult Movie Coefficient: 8/10. Well worth your time and attention.

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]