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Near Dark
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red
Near Dark
Principal Cast
Adrian Pasdar -- Caleb Colton
Jenny Wright -- Mae
Lance Henriksen -- Jesse
Bill Paxton -- Severen
Jenette Goldstein -- Diamondback
Tim Thomerson -- Loy Colton
Joshua John Miller -- Homer
Marcie Leeds -- Sarah Colton
Kenny Call -- Deputy Sheriff
Ed Corbett -- Ticket Seller
Troy Evans -- Plainclothes Officer
Bill Cross -- Sheriff Eakers
Roger Aaron Brown -- Cajun Truck Driver
Thomas Wagner -- Bartender
Robert Winley -- Patron in Bar
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Every now and then you get tricked by the hype: "Cult classic!" or "Outrageous and poetic!" Near Dark was an early outing for Kathryn Bigelow, director of racially tense, near-futuristic Strange Days. She had directed one earlier called The Loveless.

In addition to faces familiar from Aliens, what Near Dark has and prides itself over other vampiric movies is genre-crossing and avoidance of tropes: fangs, transformations, holy water, crosses, garlic. The director Kathryn Bigelow, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, teamed up with the film photographer of Terminator, Adam Greenberg, for the visuals of a contemporary horror western. Bigelow admits her "background is in visuals, the art world" and that Greenberg was able to get every visual she intended.

"Adam squeezed every drop out of those pages. We got everything on film that you could possibly get." But this may be a source of the problem.

The story is a simple one. Outside the county drugstore, Caleb Colton finds a shy beauty who needs a ride home. Enter foreplay with horses, lassos, and Caleb who refuses to drive her home until she kisses him. But she's pressed for time to get home before sun-up and bites him instead. She hoofs it home. His truck won't start, and on the walk home, he's shanghaied into a Winnebago for Southwest parts unknown. The dilemma is whether he should kill every night to live forever like the vampire gang he hangs with and to be with the girl he loves, or he should return to his father and sister.

What Bigelow handles well is to show the underside of vampirism -- you can't simply kill criminals every night -- and the lie of Hollywood's stereotype of the "shit-kicker" bar packed with the dregs of society. The vampires pick the fights, and it takes several goads to get them to do it. These are just ordinary men after plowing the field to settle down in the bar and shoot a few games of pool. So it's not just the vampire stereotypes she unmasks.

The problem comes with the depth of plot. Depth can be achieved in any number of ways: location, details, character history, characterization, character development, symbols, theme, ideas. The actors and director do fairly well by characterization, but the others lack. The story takes place in the Southwest but this Southwest is far too anonymous. Someone might mention Lance Henriksen's method acting in which he saw himself as having been brought to eternal life on his death bed by a Harpie -- a cool idea but it isn't in the movie. Hiding information may be subtle, but you do have to hint at it to unveil the subtlety. Any information not alluded to, after whatever allusive fashion, simply isn't there. A deleted scene on the DVD shows a promise of needed depth had Bigelow followed her gut instinct, though a couple of such scenes and elaborations would be required to raise this to a movie that I'd heartily recommend.

Bigelow mentions that The Lost Boys (Orson Scott Card wrote an unrelated but wonderful story by the same title) came out about the same time, which seemed to be inviting comparison, so I rented it. Here you have a divorced, unemployed mother with two sons who all move in with Grandpa, a taxidermist, who starts up his car but won't drive it into town. The younger son collects rare comic books who bumps into a couple of young militant vampire hunters. The older son becomes infatuated with a dark-haired beauty. The vampires are hoodlums living in a buried and abandoned hotel, haunting an ocean-side amusement park whose lights from the distance are also haunting. The ending is problematic with a Grandpa who can see through walls and aim flying stakes that hits certain people and not others, but so is Bigelow's with vampires who suddenly grow careless after a hundred plus years without mishap.

I feel no pangs of guilt loving The Lost Boys as much as I did when it was released. I would probably have preferred The Lost Boys then and now, but this is not to take away from Bigelow's ballsy achievements. She directs the kind of action movie guys love, with a passion that girls can understand. If you want an excellent Bigelow movie, try Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis. Buy Near Dark if you're a vampire or Bigelow collector; rent it if you're on the look-out for horror with some subtleties. A sequel wished by the actors and given a we'll-see from the director is bound to have greater depth and interest should the now-veteran Bigelow return to her early stomping grounds.

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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