JoseMaximiliano’s review published on Letterboxd:
Kinda outdated but fun. I had a write up for class, I just feel like sharing it here as well for fun haha, our of the 10 films I could choose from...
I chose Near Dark easily because of the runtime, given that I would definitely need to watch it more than once, well, a 90 minutes film is just about good.
Director and Writer Kathryn Bigelow seems like a good choice to dig deep on, having only seen Detroit I feel a huge interest on her prior films and it being on The Criterion Channel - which I subscribed for - allowed me to discover even more classic films.
One of the key scenes in the film comes in during the first act, the inciting incident. It is the scene which starts around 10:32 where Mae (Jenny Wright) begs Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) to drive her home but Caleb stops the car and hides the key, eventually, Caleb ask for Mae to kiss him so he can take her home. The scene is mostly shot with CLOSE UPS from both characters.
It is a kissing scene and it slowly unravels into a passionate scene until Mae bites Caleb on the neck revealing she is a vampire. The CLOSE UPS added intimacy and helped for the big reveal of the scene to be more powerful.
The film focuses on a handful of interesting characters, all serving different purposes.
Our two main characters, Mae and Caleb serve as DYNAMIC characters, both having transitioned from point A to point B, for example, Mae at the beginning of the film is a vampire who is hesitating about getting along with Caleb but she goes through her corresponding obstacles in order to get to point B where she turns her back on her fellow vampires to be and help Caleb and his family. Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), Severen (Bill Paxton) Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) and Homer (Joshua John Miller) all feel like ONE DIMENSIONAL characters, living their best vampire life never having to change a thing. They struggled to like Caleb at first place and he was never of their likening and at the end it was the very same thing.
I went on Letterboxd to read some reviews of the film prior and after watching just to get some insights on it and most of the good talk was about the CINEMATOGRAPHY and I, for good, ended up liking the cinematography more than any other aspect in the film. Decorated by the interesting choice of lightning most of the long/wide shots in here were incredibly appealing to the eye, most of them felt like a panting. Cinematographer Adam Greenberg really took me to this Vampire world in which shadows and I completely loved it.
The ATMOSPHERE of the film feels very gloomy but somehow intriguing and I think it perfectly matched to the Vampire/Western kind of thing going on thanks in particular to Art Directors Stephen Altman and Dian Perryman, I believed this is a world in which Vampires would live.
Putting aside the fact of Vampires existing in the world, the writers Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red stylized this love relationship between Mae and Caleb in a very unrealistic way, the relationship felt that came out of a soap opera, being highly melodramatic at times, but yet again, it works in the world these two are living. I wouldn’t have been able to see it as a realistic, grounded relationship. It needed that blood-and-thunder feel.
The editing by Howard E. Smith felt fast paced, slight bumps on the road but for a 1987 movie it actually felt fast paced, especially because the b-story of the film is the father Loy (Tim Thomerson) and daughter Sarah (Marcie Leeds) trying to find Caleb, so it feels that there’s someone going against the clock. The transitions are not showy, most of them are seamless. Only when Howard wants us to understand the passage of time, for example during the short montage which starts around 26:31 when Caleb drops off the bus, the transitions feel caricaturist but the audience can easily understand the passage of time from the bus to the warehouse where Mae is.
One of the most talked about collaborations to the film is New Wave Darlings TANGERINE DREAM’s Original Score. Apart from being a really good stand alone piece of music, the score creeps into your skin, it is heavy on synthesizers that oscillate around key scenes in the film. Going back to when Caleb gets bit by Mae 10:32, the score emphasizes the eeriness to the scene, us as viewers not really knowing the final outcome of such a scene, making it feel mysterious enough. There is a long piece “Pick Up At High Noon” which follows the sequence right after Caleb’s truck decided not to function anymore where Caleb has to walk back home, we get introduced to Loy and Sarah and eventually Caleb gets chased and caught by the Vampires. The long cue takes us from a disconcerting moment around 12:30 to a very heartwarming introduction of the loving daughter around 14:00 to a musical climax/chase scene with energetic percussion to symbolize the rush Caleb is in.
The film is big on practical make up for the vampires. Makeup artist Davida Simon worked on very simplistic yet recognizable looks for the vampires, pale skin as usual and to some extent a western like rusty demeanor. Hair Stylist Linda Nottestad had an interesting job as well, working on fashionable hairstyles for the Vampires and a personal favorite, the hairstyle for Mae. A short blonde elegance for one of our leads. The heavy part came with Derek Howard who worked on most of the blood and skin. Throughout the movie if the vampires and the sunlight meet each other their skin would burn instantly, so there was a lot of work to do there. Almost through the end of the film around 1:28:00 there is a close up of the bad vampires’ hand as they drive/burn, smoke coming out of the skin, very painful to see but it was nicely done.
When it comes to storytelling it was linear throughout the entire runtime. No risky turns or so, the film just goes chronologically so that makes it even easier to understand. No flashbacks or flash forwards needed, easy there.
You could easily categorize this film as a Vampire film and go home but if has many influences from all around the board. There is straight up romance - the relationship between Mae and Caleb -, we get Western vibes as well, just from knowing that Caleb and his family live as a farm family. They have animals to take care, they dress very cowboy-ish, we even get a full scene of Caleb riding a horse just before the climax of the movie around 1:19:42. So yes, it is very much a Western.
Outside the fun I had from watching this kind of outdated silly Vampire film, I, interestingly learned one of the many ways to appeal to different sectors of the audience, as mentioned in the eleventh paragraph, this is a hybrid of three different genres, coming out of this I feel like every story I am to write has to be hybrid in some way or another. It gives you the liberty of expanding your voice as an auteur, finding new ways to tell some stories we may have seen already. Also, I admired the way you can use cinematography and lighting to augment the image you are trying to paint. As discussed in class, you will never find a group of vampires walking around with perfect lighting on from them to have enhanced shadows, but here they have it and it helps create an iconic look, audiences easily remember this and lives on thanks to that. It is fascinating how you can set up the atmosphere for the whole film by just writing a thrilling original score, how to change the audience expectations within just minutes, if you go in blind you will probably think it is yet another romantic film but not even 10 minutes in and it turns into a Vampire film. How to boost the impact of a scene by just playing with different types of shots - close up of the kiss scene -, had it been a wide shot it wouldn’t have had a strong impact on me. It is all about choosing the right set up and it will most likely work. My favorite thing out of everything is that you don’t have to write a three hours thirty minutes film to tell a good, entertaining story. With just 90 minutes of runtime this feels just about fine, with enough interaction between the multiple characters, action pieces, cheesy melodramatic romance and long beautifully scored sequences. After this I became more keen on visiting Kathryn Bigelow’s filmography.