Near Dark is shockingly mediocre, considering it may be the world’s first (?) vampire western film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and starring the cast of Aliens. Near Dark stars a young Adrian Pasdar as Caleb, an Oklahoma boy who gets seduced by, and turned into, a vampire. Forced to go on the run, he joins a coven of vampires, lead by Jesse (Lance Henriksen – it’s a … weird … performance), and the psychotic Severen (Bill Paxton, at his most gleefully deranged – the best part of the movie by far).
Near Dark is firmly an ’80s movie, if nothing else thanks to a synth-heavy score by Tangerine Dream that falls solidly into cliche. Unfortunately, this is a film that has aged somewhat poorly in the intervening years since its release, mostly stylistically.
Near Dark explores similar themes to Bigelow’s debut, The Loveless – the idea of deconstructing a “bad boy” image, in this case also deconstructing the idea of vampires as something sexy and seductive. And like The Loveless, Near Dark is a bit shapeless (if less so). It seems clear that Kathryn Bigelow, as a director, has never felt strictly bound by form.
There are definitely some interesting ideas in Near Dark beyond the stellar Paxton performance. Bigelow and co-screenwriter Eric Red were probably not the first, nor are they the last, to come up with the idea of vampire children, with age far beyond their appearance – but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless. And of course, the conceit of vampires not existing in this world, of there being no language to describe the transformation that Caleb has undergone, is somewhat obvious, but effective.
It’s interesting that this film feels like it has a downer ending despite the fact that ostensibly the characters that we’re meant to “like” all make it through alive. There’s a lot of cool ideas in this film, some fun actors, a great concept, but it just doesn’t quite add up like it should. I wanted to like this more than I did, and ultimately felt disappointed.