Near Dark (1987)

Bigelow’s first solo outing as director is an entertaining, at times subversive, neo-western vampire movie that is not afraid to have fun with its material. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,508

Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
1987 | USA | Horror/Thriller | 94 min | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (edited) for some violence and gore

Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein
Plot: A small-town farmer’s son reluctantly joins a traveling group of vampires after he is bitten by a beautiful drifter.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Vampires; Love & Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Cult Mainstream

Viewed: MUBI (uncut version)
Spoilers: No

There were moments in Near Dark that felt like a James Cameron ‘Terminator’ movie—cue a scene featuring a heavy truck and a relentless villain, or one where a van crashes into a house in order to rescue folks trapped inside, which seems like a dress rehearsal for T2’s escape from Cyberdyne scene four years later. 

Although Kathryn Bigelow’s marriage to Cameron was short-lived, Near Dark bears a number of fingerprints that would come to define the latter’s set piece-heavy action cinema. 

Bigelow, who would become the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar (for 2009’s The Hurt Locker), shows her assuredness as a filmmaker in her first solo outing as director. 

“Listen hard. The night. It’s deafening.”

She fashions a lean but effective vampire movie, set against the vast, lonely landscape of small-town America.  Adopting iconography from the Western, she reconfigures genre conventions with effortless ease, turning Near Dark into a neo-western horror, yet her film isn’t all gloom and dread. 

In fact, the movie is not afraid to have fun with its material, and this is most evident from the wonderful chemistry of its cast, which includes Aliens’ alumni Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein.  A young man is bitten by a drifter and turns into a vampire.  He is, however, living on borrowed time as a ragtag group of vampires forces him to make his first kill. 

The most memorable segment in the film has got to be the protracted diner scene, which Bigelow maximises not just tension but laughs, conflating suspense and absurdity in a gleeful, subversive way.

Grade: B+



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