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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

NEAR DARK (Kathryn Bigelow 1987): A Vampire-Western?!

2.5 Stars (And I know some Bigelow fans will disagree)

There is no question that elements that typify the Vampire Flick have changed throughout the years - these days apparently they sparkle in the sun… And attend high school… 

Wait, are modern Vamp boys David Wooderson incarnate?!

ANYWAYS, Nina Auerbach, a Victorian Lit expert, has argued that while the Vampire story peaked in the 1970s, the 1980s saw a move from thrilling romance to themes of imprisonment; vampirism became a disease, in no small part thanks to public despair over the AIDS epidemic which had ‘dirtied’ the idea of blood transfer.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark brings together this sentiment with Gothic elements and Western themes to create a vampire film that stands alone in its own unnamed category. Despite the originality and beautiful cinematography, I feel the film still falls flat in a number of ways.

While I did not particularly enjoy this one, “objectively” speaking (if that exists) I am willing to say that this film is interesting. In regards to gender there is some clear role-reversal between May the Vampire, and Caleb, the cowboy she turns. While May seems needy and unsure of herself at times, Caleb’s inexperience as a vampire, and with violence in general, means he is forced to depend on her quite heavily. Almost like werewolves, May’s Vampire friends function as a nomad family - a pack (or biker gang). When May unexpectedly inserts Caleb into their dynamic, some are less than inviting.

Furthermore, the violence they are shown indulging in is presented as pleasurable, and freeing, which is very difficult for Caleb to come to terms with.

I guess the film can be described as being about family, for better or for worse. As Caleb learns to function within his new “family”, he also resists his change and resents losing his loved ones. The relationship between May and Caleb is strained but romantic (although coded in dependency), and I find the delivery of this makes the movie drag a bit. It seemed to not be going anywhere, even by the end.

(Spoilers Below)

The return of Caleb’s family is a twist that amps up the action. Just when I thought things couldn’t get stranger, another curveball - there’s a CURE for VAMPIRISM! Uhhhhhh… Ok. 

Once Caleb is “saved” (and yes, there is a definite religious tone to this) he takes it upon himself to save May. This is where the film really lost me. At no point did May express a desire to be “saved”, so I couldn’t understand why Caleb would assume this, let alone why she would go along with it. However, kudos Bigelow, because the scene is quite beautiful with its Frankenstein imagery.

In the spirit of Western genre conventions which emphasize hyper-masculinity, May’s conversion back into a human sets the gender roles in order, so to speak, leaving her vulnerable, afraid, and relying heavily on Caleb’s love and support. 

Roll Credits (And my eyes). I pick Strange Days over this any day!