FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Near Dark

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.



Near Dark sees a good ole Oklahoma boy, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), lured by the enigmatic May (Jenny Wright) into a quasi-family of drifters who may be more than initially meets the eye. They are led by the charismatic Jesse (Lance Henriksen) and wander across the American landscape at night, shunning the sun and thriving on blood. It all starts to go awry when Caleb refuses to kill another human and drink their blood, something which would complete his 'turn' into a vampire. His family are also on the hunt for Caleb and the clash of the two worlds forces him to make a choice between the day or the night.

1987 saw another vampire movie of similar ideas in The Lost Boys in one of those curious instances of movie doubling. Whilst Joel Schumacher's tale of teenage rebellion was steeped in schlock and humour, Near Dark takes an altogether more macabre approach to the material. Bigelow and fellow screenwriter Eric Red combine the vampire element with that of the Western in one of the few Western genre hybrids that actually works. The Lost Boys may be the more fun of the two films, but Near Dark is much more atmospheric.

Much of that is achieved by the fact that the film takes place in the same level of light suggested by its title, with the cold glow of street lamps or car headlights providing some scenes only illumination. It's a world that operates in shadow too; we're never told exactly that Jesse and his gang are vampires, left to draw our own conclusions from years of pop culture and horror knowledge. We never know exactly what their motivations are, other than to feed, nor how their particular brand of vampirism works. It's neatly done with Bigelow and Red giving us just enough information for us to be satisfied whilst retaining an air of enigma around the vampiric family.

The fusion with the Western genre also lends itself to that dusky aesthetic, where morality is a weird grey area predicated on the need to survive rather than the need to be good. Caleb spends much of the movie occupying that curious middle ground having been offered the chance to live up to the lifestyle his cowboy hat and boots represent. Jesse's people have formed themselves into a corrupted domestic setup that functions like parents with kids and they offer Caleb a reckless existence.

It helps that these are made up of some of the finest character actors in the business who had also recently worked on a little film called Aliens together; Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and Bill Paxton have an easy chemistry that clashes nicely with the quieter May and the new arrival Caleb. Paxton in particular looks like he's having a ball, playing Hudson without the fear, but with the same amount of jokey assholery. My only complaint is that Goldstein was relegated to a sort of maternal figure without really doing anything else.

Kathryn Bigelow's directorial debut is a brooding yet violent take on the vampire genre, taking something that could have easily tired with the Western sensibilities that give it a rejuvenating kick. It might not be quite as fun or memorable as The Lost Boys, but it offers what is perhaps a more interesting take on the same story.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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