Monday, January 18, 2010

Near Dark

(God I love awesome foreign movie posters)

The Hurt Locker came out on DVD, last week, so I’m using it as an excuse to go back and look at some of Kathryn Bigelow. That’s right, it’s BIGELOW WEEK here at Things That Don’t Suck. Or not quite Bigelow Week, because there’s no way I’m watching K-19 and Harrison Ford’s Rooshin accent. Let’s all just agree that this week there will be more articles about Kathryn Bigelow, then you would find in your average week.

That may not be snappy enough for a banner, but I’m all about honesty here.

The debut of The Hurt Locker has brought about a much needed reexamination of director Kathryn Bigelow’s career. Her's is one of the most interesting and frustrating of the modern day, easy to like, damn near impossible to love. An intelligent and energetic director who has spent a dismaying portion of her career dedicated to the idea that she can make movies as loud and dumb as any man. A feminist who has portrayed some truly stomach churning violence against women in her movies. Watching a Kathryn Bigelow movie is like inviting yourself to wonder “What was she thinking?” For a couple of hours.

However, her first film, like her latest, is just about perfect. It’s one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen and brother, I’ve seen a lot of them. Near Dark follows a pack of feral vampires, who induct a young hick into their clan. About as far from the romanticism of the Twilight and Anne Rice series as you can get, (nobody is sparkling here) these vamps are feral animals who prey on drifters, truckers, and in one terrifying scene an entire bar. Basically anyone whose not going to be missed.

The clan is led by the great, and seemingly embalmed Lance Henrikson, digging into an unusually meaty roll, and backed up by Bill Paxton with a twisty methed up biker energy that’s unlike anything else he’s ever done. When he rips into a steaming juglar with the line “Finger Lickin Good” there’s an anarchic joy to what he does that makes him at once repellent and impossible to look away from.

The only time Near Dark toy’s with cliché is when it feels like ripping them apart. We get the obligatory child Vampire here, whose been kicking around since the civil war. But he’s mostly around to get mocked. It’s odd watching the film in the aftermath of Twilight, since they both cover a surprising amount of the same things, particulary the obsession with a clan of Vampires as a family unit. The difference of course is that Near Dark approaches these things with dark humor and some great scares. While Twilight approaches them by being the most effective deterrent to Feminism since the cudgel. Hell Bigelow puts more depth into the idea in one subplot, following the struggles of his biological family to get him back from his adopted one, then Meyer’s put into her entire “saga”.

To call Near Dark gritty would be a vast understatement; it’s positively grimy. There’s no gothic manse here, just boarded up RV’s, sleazy motels, and truck stops and juke joints just waiting to be pryed open like a can of sardines. Near Dark makes the most of its unique back roads aesthetic and half of the fun of watching it, is getting to see chunks of the American countryside that no one else bothers to film. At times it plays almost more like a Western then a horror film. And while it’s been influential (as much as I like it, The Devil’s Rejects basically ripped just about everything off from this one) it’s rough enough to retain a lot of its originality.

Near Dark does have a few problems, the ending is sort of a cop out. And Adrian Paster (yes that dude from heroes) makes a convincing out of his depth hick, he’s less convincing as a dedicated undead ass kicker. But by this time the movie’s got so much momentum it just rolls over these issues.

Near Dark is such an intense experience that maybe it was a bit inevitable that whatever Bigelow did next would be a bit of a let down. But still it’s nice to see her reconnect with greatness with The Hurt Locker, after all horror fans always knew she always had it in her.

2 comments:

Emily said...

Great review of a truly great horror film. I've been harnessing a death wish on a co-worker who borrowed this film from me and didn't like it. As punishment, I then lent him Inside.

I caught the end of Point Break the other night and was also fascinated/frustrated with Bigelow. A fine action director, but ahhh, how I wish she got her hands on some better scripts in the late '80s/90s. Hurt Locker is on its way, but it's good to know that Near Dark will always remain one of the best vampire films of all time.

And my gosh do I love Bill Paxton.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

I hope when you gave him Inside you went, "MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!"

But yeah part of the reason I wanted to revisit Bigelow was I was fascinated by the fact that I respected her but liked so few of her films.