Well this is embarrassing. I wrote this review back in early January 2010 and just realized now that I never posted it. Yeah I know; shut up!! So here it is:
If you think the romanticized, faggy, androgynous vampires that Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer’s write about are scary or “cool”, then you can probably stop reading this review right now. For those of you who love the pasty, Euro-trash type of vampire (you know the ones … they look and act about as scary as your typical teen goth poseur); well, NEAR DARK is definitely NOT for you. On the other hand, if you like your vampires nasty, ferocious, and brutal (this is starting to sound like a Thomas Hobbes quote!!) well then you’ve come to the right place.
NEAR DARK is what a fast, violent vampire flick is all about. The vampires here are gritty, dirty, violent, and pissed off creatures who don’t have any plans of world domination or enslaving humanity. They just live to survive. The story begins with Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) meeting and falling for Mae (Jenny Wright). Writer-director Kathryn Bigelow (director of the amazing THE HURT LOCKER) does a great job tricking us into believing we are watching a touching love story as we follow these two on a date. But Mae is actually a vampire and even though she genuinely likes Caleb and doesn’t wanna hurt him, she is also hungry. In a very tense scene Bigelow builds an amazing amount of tension as we feel Mae’s conflict as she contemplates kissing or killing Caleb. Right when you think she’s going in for the kill, she pulls back at the last minute and gives him a little nip on the neck. It’s a great scene and Mae hits all the ‘Wright’ notes (ha!): She is cute and innocent but also has a raw animalistic side that she struggles to keep below the surface. It’s a great performance.
Mae’s nip was enough to turn Caleb into a vampire, but he doesn’t understand what’s happening to himself; he’s hungry but can’t stomach any kind of food and he’s becoming very sensitive to sunlight. As Caleb stumbles home after his encounter with Mae, just as the sun is rising, he looks as though he is gonna burst into flames. Just as he’s about to get to his house, an R.V. comes outta nowhere and swoops him up – right in full view of Caleb’s dad, played by the always great Tim Thomerson.
All this takes place in like the first 15-20 minutes. It’s a great beginning that really sets the tone for the rest of the flick. Inside the R.V. are Mae and her “family”: Jesse (Lance Hendrikson), Severin (Bill Paxton), Diamondback (Janette Goldstein), and Homer (Joshua Miller). The first three starred together in James Cameron’s ALIENS (1986), and you can feel a genuine chemistry among them all. (Fun piece of trivia: When Caleb is staggering through the town he passes by a drive-in and the movie ALIENS is playing in the background). Everyone in the R.V. are vampires. They’ve all been changed at different times. The “family” isn’t happy that Mae turned Caleb and they are ready to just kill him to get rid of him. But Mae convinces them to give him a chance and to let him make his first kill thereby becoming a full vampire after his first feeding. So they take him to a honky-tonk bar in the middle of nowhere to see if he has what it takes to survive as a vampire.
Oh that bar scene. This is probably the most famous part of the movie. It’s both humorous and absolutely horrifying. The “family” walks into the bar as normal customers and slowly begin to terrorize the few drunk locals. Bill Paxton shines as one violent son of a bitch; a far cry from his whiney space marine character in ALIENS. What they end up doing to the guys in the bar is hard to watch. You know it’s not gonna end well for the customers. Again, Bigelow does an amazing job building tension and elevating a sense of dread and escalating violence.
The rest of the movie has Caleb’s dad tracking him down to save him from the “kidnappers.” And just wait until the final battle between Caleb and his dad and the “family” of vampires. Awesome stuff here. This is Bigelow’s first solo directing job and she was warned by producer Edward Feldman that if she couldn’t handle the job as director she’d be replaced after the first five days of filming. What a douche. The last thing Feldman produced was the shitty K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER back in 2002. Bigelow is now up for an Academy Award for the incredible THE HURT LOCKER. Eat me Feldman. Bigelow has a great eye here. The action sequences are beautifully shot making it feel as though you’re actually in the movie, and the horror scenes are absolutely terrifying. The scene in the bar could be used in a film school as the perfect example of how to set up a shot and build the tension to an explosive and violent ending.
All the performances are incredible. If you only know the Lance Henriksen from his later career as a “straight to DVD” B-movie whore, well you need to see him here. This movie will remind you why Lance is a star. His performance here is fantastic; he’s like a tightly coiled spring that’s ready to explode at any moment (and he does explode … quite a few times).
This is possibly the best vampire movie ever made. Writer-director Bigelow really injects some originality into an otherwise listless genre (and interesting enough, the term “vampire” is never used once the entire movie). She doesn’t try and re-write the genre, just update it and make it fresh. She doesn’t shy away from the violence either. The above-mentioned bar scene will have you peeking through your fingers and really empathizing with the guys in the bar. It’s got it all: great acting, great f/x, and a great ending. Bigelow offers a pretty damn clever solution to “curing” vampirism. Really clever. Don’t miss this one.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow (also writer)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Afterwards: Here’s something to make you pretty sick to your stomach. Last year, July 2009, NEAR DARK was re-released onto DVD. But to try and cash in on the success of the TWILIGHT (yech) movies, NEAR DARK got some new DVD cover art. Check it out below and compare it to the cover art of TWILIGHT. I don’t think I need to say anything else … Yes I do: Why the F**K would they wanna compare a classic masterpiece like NEAR DARK to that shitty TWILIGHT series?? Yeah yeah yeah; I know the answer is money. But for f**k’s sake …