Near Dark Review

The Film

Kathryn Bigelow is best known for films about people under pressure. More often than not this has been about societies of men specifically. Near Dark was her second feature film and looks at two kinds of family loyalty. Masculinity is characteristically very much in evidence in the up and at 'em Bill Paxton, the twin father figures of Lance Henriksen and Tim Thomerson, and in its central character, a good ol' boy. The women here fill their expected gender roles within the family with the demure love interest Jenny Wright, Caleb's young sister, and the maternal Diamondback.

The farming family that Caleb grew up from may lack a mother but it is clearly much more traditional than the one that adopts Caleb and then tries to make him part of their rituals. The balance of the directorial perspective is heavily biased to consider the family of vampires, and Bigelow's main interest is following this way of life of hunting and feeding. Caleb, once turned by blood, must choose to become like his adopted family or to hold onto his birth family's values and face ostracism and a hunger he can never satisfy.
With a growing number of modern day vampire movies, Near Dark stands out as one that seriously sympathises with the nature of the beast. The intelligence brought to bear in terms of showing the family's existence, the loneliness of their long lives, and their continued possession of many human facets creates a very believable fantasy. The mise-en-scene and photography is darkly atmospheric and a little post industrial, with no real attempt given to emphasise the conventions of the supernatural bloodsucker. The explosions of graphic violence are vicious and merely explain that our family is on top of the food chain, just above the humans they used to be.

Yet despite the sympathy for the outsiders, the film chooses to eventually affirm the more "normal" lifestyles of Caleb's human family. The drifting bloodsuckers are eventually seen as a lonely blight that are judged for their crimes of nature, and the cure for their condition is to be made normal or to be destroyed. This means that for all of the imagination of the screenplay the eventual work merely flirts with heterodoxy before affirming conformity.
Mixing action, love story, and downplayed horror, Near Dark holds up very well. it may still be the best film that Kathryn Bigelow has directed and for those currently enjoying Let the Right One in, this is a film which will reward a punt.

Technical Specs

As Matt has pointed out with the recent plethora of Optimum releases, quite often masters have been used that were created for standard definition releases. Near Dark may be another example of this as the transfer does show some edge enhancement that looks a little out of place in high definition. This is an AVC encoded transfer on a region B encoded single layer disc with a filesize of 17.9GB of the discs total used capacity of 18GB. Contrast is crucial to the treatment of this film and there is some slight greying in the deepest shades and a lack of shadow detail her as well. The grain does not seem to have been raised by sharpening the image and the colour balance seems very good to my eyes. It's a huge improvement on existing treatments which could be improved with less boosting of edges and better black levels, yet this film has never looked this good before.
Two high definition audio options are offered with a LPCM stereo track and a DTS Master Audio mix as well. The film was shot using "ultra stereo" which means that the 5.1 mix is less contrived than some films of its age that have been giving the fully loaded option, still the amount of use of the individual rears is limited and approximate rather than authentically three dimensional. Bit rates are similar for both tracks and I would say both sound a little trebley in places, but again this is so much better than previous releases that it gives the film a whole new lease of life and much greater impact to boot.


A very fine movie that follows the same pattern as a lot of Bigelow's later films where outsiders are flirted with but eventually judged by the mainstream. This is a nice treatment of what can't be the easiest film to do justice to, and well worth picking up.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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