Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lost Girls

I wasn't feeling either of the movies I rented from my local video store last night, so I decided to give the ol' roulette wheel a spin. I sort of quailed when the result came up as We Are the Night (2011, directed by Dennis Gansel), a German vampire movie. I thought: "Vampires. Crap." Vampires are probably the most played out, most annoying archetype in the horror tarot these day, whether from the proliferation of paranormal romance novels or the vampire-themed soaps all over television or the goddamn sparklers in the Twilight movies. I really do try to leave my preconceptions behind when watching movies I haven't seen, but sometimes, it's really, really hard.

Anyway, We Are the Night opens well with a scene on an airplane, where the pilot and all of the passengers have had their throats ripped out by a trio of lady vampires. The plane is approaching Berlin, and with no one to fly the plane ("You shouldn't have killed the pilot," one of our vampiresses deadpans), the three jump ship and let the plane crash. I warmed up to the movie a little with this scene, because it's a neat modern reworking of the arrival of the Demeter in Dracula. I thought: "Okay, maybe this isn't going to suck." Our three vampires are: Louise, the queen vampire; Charlotte, who was once a movie star in Weimar Germany; and Nora, the baby of the group, a punk rock good-time girl. Louise, it turns out, is looking for her lost love, and she scans the eyes of every woman she meet to see if she's found her. Meanwhile, on the streets of Berlin, a troubled young woman makes her living as a thief and a pickpocket. When we first meet her, she's robbing a Russian pimp at an ATM machine, where, unfortunately, a police sting is taking place. She takes off running, chased by nice-guy cop, Tom. During the chase, Lena changes clothes and poses as a bystander, Tom sees through her, but he likes her and chooses not to follow once she ultimately gives him the slip. That night, Lena follows her nose to a rave at an abandoned amusement park, where she plies her trade. This is Louise's party, and she sees something in Lena's eyes that suggests that Lena might be The One. She bites Lena and Lena turns. Louise and her companions introduce Lena to a life of decadents and abandon. Lena is terribly uncomfortable with all of it, and in order to acclimate her to the life of the vampire, Lena gives her to a trio of Russian mobsters to abuse, in the hopes that Lena's inner savage will surface. It does, but Lena still won't kill, so Louise and Charlotte do it for her. Unfortunately, this is all caught on video and the cops, including Tom, are able to trace them through the Lambourghini that Louise gives to Lena. A SWAT team descends on the hotel where our vampires are staying. The vampires have to take it on the lam in broad daylight, while Louise becomes torn between her obsession with Lena and her suspicions of her, while Lena keeps looking for an escape.

This all plays out pretty well. We Are the Night is a slick, slick movie complete with a strong sense of the fashions of underground Berlin. Once upon a time, this is a movie that would have been made for a buck fifty and dumped direct to video, but this film has a budget more than adequate to stage elaborate set pieces. The SWAT invasion of the hotel is a particularly good one, as is the car chase that follows in which the vampires' "safe" car is riddled with bullet holes that let in shafts of sunlight. This last is kinda sorta swiped from Near Dark, but it's a good swipe. The movie even finds time for some pathos near the end as Charlotte visits her elderly daughter in the nursing home before they all leave for Moscow. The special effects-laden showdown at the end between Louise and Lena is dodgy, but it has a pretty good punch line. The movie on the whole is well-composed, so points for style.

What this doesn't do is re-invent the wheel. This touches various vampire tropes, from the search for a reincarnated lover to the reluctant vampire who won't kill to the loneliness of immortality manifesting itself as fey decadence. None of this is new and most of these tropes are played out. There's a conversation mid-film that suggests an interesting path that the movie could have taken in the hands of a more adventurous filmmaker, though, in which Louise explains that there are no more male vampires because the female vampires have hunted and killed them all. What would such a sinister matriarchy look like? We get a little of it in microcosm with the relationship between Louise and her companions, but not enough to know what an entire society of exclusively female vampires would look like. We Are the Night instead chooses to use this as a throwaway means of introducing a feminist subtext into the movie. If that was its intention, then it backfires. Rather than being a feminist figure, she becomes the stereotype of the predatory lesbian intent on recruiting straight women into the "homosexual lifestyle." This movie is titillated by lesbians, but it's homophobic at its core.

Unfortunately, the version of this movie that Netflix is streaming is dubbed into English, and badly at that. I can't get a good feel for the performances from this film, though Karoline Herfurth is alternately feral and vulnerable as Lena. I don't need to hear her voice to see this; it's written all over her face. The movie tries hard at the outset to dirty up Herfurth as a tough street kid, but even in these scenes, the fact that she's got the bone structure of a supermodel is evident. So it's no surprise that after she transforms into a vampire, she becomes a swan from an ugly duckling. It's a cliche, but the movie almost pulls it off. Almost. Nina Hoss is another matter. Her Louise is harmed more by the dubbing than all of the rest of the cast combined. She's a character that SHOULD be speaking German. She's a born dominatrix, flavored with a salting of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. The voice they've chosen for her simply doesn't match the actress or performance. Alas. I may have to revisit this in its original language to see if it is improved.

Or maybe not. There are too many movies to see.


Jenn said...

Weird, because in my movie searching last night, I was actually going to watch this on streaming. I ended up with THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING, to which I promptly passed out. Oh well. We must've been on a little wavelength or something last night :)

Chris Hewson said...

I would say that getting movies dubbed like that is the reason that I buy movies, instead of using things like netflix, but I live in Australia, so there's really no fear of that anyway. (I don't think that the Americans would have the time or patience to dub the obscure Danish/Swedish/Austrian/Italian etc. tv shows/movies that I watch! haha!)