What I love about Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” is that it doesn’t glamorize vampires. It doesn’t paint them as pop stars, millionaires, or aristocrats. In reality the group of vampires that roam the South here could be mistaken for dangerous transients. Their lives are a series of contradictions that paint them as despicable but somewhat empathetic villains. They have immortality, but burst in to flames in natural sun light. They have fantastic powers, but they have literally no choice but to roam the world looking for new prey. “Near Dark” is very much an eighties relic like its lighter counterpart “The Lost Boys,” and still hasn’t shown its wrinkles. Draped in glorious shades of blue and gray and given a haunting score from Tangerine Dream, “Near Dark” is a vicious vampire film about a young man trying to maintain his soul and keep his humanity in tact.
Adrian Pasdar plays Caleb, an average farm boy who decides to woo young Mae when she crosses his path. After a night out, the two engage in a make out session, and much to Caleb’s surprise Mae nips him on the neck, fleeing. As Caleb makes his way home on foot, he realizes that he’s not only undergone an odd transformation within hours, but is burning up in natural sunlight. Despite his father’s best efforts to help, Caleb is kidnapped by Mae’s group of seemingly inconspicuous nomads and Caleb soon finds out he’s becoming a vampire. Mae insists on initiating her new lover in to the group of blood suckers, and to complete his transformation he must consume human blood. But as he wanders around with the group learning their vicious predatory methods, he struggles to contain his cravings.
Another of the more fantastic elements of the narrative is that nothing the group ever accomplishes in terms of wrangling and devouring their prey is romantic or seductive. They’re nothing but carnage and pure evil with a lust for pain, and that’s plainly conveyed in their disturbing siege on a dive bar, where they murder every patron without mercy. Bill Paxton is especially mesmerizing as the psychotic vampire Severen, who turns his slaughtering of victims in to a veritable show for Caleb, and takes great pleasure in consuming those he murders mercilessly. If possible, Paxton steals scenes from Lance Henriksen, who plays the enigmatic leader Jesse Hooker, who plays his role as a cult leader carefully picking his new followers. We watch for most of the sequence as Caleb lusts for the blood that pours from their innocent victims, but refuses to submit to their sadistic tactics or torture and mutilation for the sake of sustenance.
While his struggle to remain human allows for some interesting drama and friction between Caleb and his ersatz family, the finale is really where the narrative falls apart. While the film itself doesn’t re-imagine the vampire lore very much, the way Caleb’s father remedies his vampirism feels cheap and very rushed. And while with enough explanation you can almost suspend disbelief, the ultimate resolution between Caleb and Mae also feels very abrupt and like a deus ex machina. In either case, despite the flawed climax, “Near Dark” is an atmospheric and nightmarish vampire film that will work for movie lovers that enjoy their vampires vicious, predatory, and monstrous.