“I asked you to listen to the night, now listen to me”
Ever since The Hurt Locker, so many film-friends always follow up the conversation with “yeah, but have you seen Point Break or Near Dark, because they are great films too!”. Unfortunatly, prior to watching Near Dark I had not seen any Kathyrn Bigelow films, except The Hurt Locker. I know this was vampires and I could tell it was very eighties, but – it turns out – as the cult-favourite that it is, it actually has alot more interesting depth to it than the tag “eighties vampire film” leads you to believe …
A New Take on a Specific Genre …
As a vampire film, you could easily assume certain specific features: Gothic fairytale, vampires that turn into bats, Transylvania, etc. Clearly, Bigelow and Eric Red simply threw out the rule book and took the one timeless facet to the vampire genre – they live forever and they feed off the blood of others. These two simple aspects to the vampire genre have multiple layers – the literal feeding-off from society, the
desperation for a drug/blood, eternal life, etc. The context is shifted to the American South-West as a vampire group from across town and across the ages band together to simply stay alive – this is until Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) falls for Mae, one of the younger Vampires and in a passionate embrace Mae bites him turning him into a vampire and thus Caleb, the outside, intrudes on this family of vampires…
From Aliens To Vampires
The most interesting casting issue is the repeat-casting of Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson and Jeanette Goldstein from James Camerons Aliens. The DVD documentary shows Paxton and Henrikson with the whole “I saw the script and passed it to my buddy Lance/Bill and we were cast … none of us knew that each other was in it either!”, etc. Bigelow and Cameron married in 1989, which we can assume that they dated for at least two years – meaning that their relationship must have been pretty close in 86′ and 87′. I find it hard to believe that as James Cameron was making Aliens, released in 1986, he did not dictate quite clearly to Paxton, Henrikson and Goldstein to take Bigelows film on board – “guaranteed work between Aliens and the publicity campaign for Aliens. It seems a little too perfect to imagine that it was simply ‘luck’ that all three were cast so soon after the intense experience on a Cameron set. Bigelow states that the closeness established on Aliens was ideal for the family-dynamic of Near Dark. I must admit, at any rate, the overtly feminine and maternal aspect of Jeanette Goldstein completely throws out the ultra masculine character she plays in Aliens.
Lance Henrikson has a look that is rooted in the classical depiction of Nosferatu as his nails are virtually claws and his long, imposing jacket, again reeks of classical mythology. The Civil-War history of his character is clear, but you could work it out as 15% classic vampire and 85% western civil-war veteran. The story is an adaptation, to some small extent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula but so many aspects – especially of the characters – have been changed it is virtually impossible to draw parrallels except the vampire characteristics.
Sexuality and Feminity
I think the femininity of blood is clearly something that Bigelow must have been attracted to. An example of a film that, though you often feel that Caleb is the centre of the story – as it is he who goes through the transformation at the start – it is Mae (Jenny Wright) who is the emotion of the story. Her lonliness is what we first see at the start – it is what attracts Caleb to her and their relationship is what we see progress and change throughout. Her bite off of him is what changes his life, but as he begins to understand the reality of his situation, you can see overtly sexualised sequences as he feeds off of her. She dies a little when he does this – they are supposed to feed off humans – but she still offers herself to him. Could you argue that blood, as a symbol of reproduction, is what he is animalistically attracted to – mans insatiable lust for the reproductive state of woman. To paraphrase in neaderthal speak – man likes sex with woman. The woman, in this perspective is who is in power and, referring to the chosen quote – it is Mae that Caleb needs to listen to.
Fascinating but low-budget
This is one of those situations whereby it is a great idea and the Western imagery and stunning silhouettes of horses and cowboy-look of the characters combined with the dusty landscape sets a precedent for adapatations. The horror as the characters burn in the sun are equally impressive. I would love to see a version of this film with a bigger-budget and more action sequences – hardly Bigelows fault bear in mind, but it would be great if a sequel could expand this world. Maybe more action sequences and less conversations inside a car. I would recommend this – but don’t expect something big and flashy because it is inrecibly small-scale.