Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wendigo Meets WE ARE THE NIGHT (Wir sind die Nacht, 2010)

About a third of the way through Dennis Gansel's film -- at the point when novice vampire Lena is urged to put aside her qualms about blood-drinking and "just let go," my friend Wendigo turned to me and said, "This is Near Dark." A few minutes later, when the four vampire women went on a shopping spree, I suggested, "This is Near Dark meets Sex in the City," and Wendigo agreed. Moments after that, as the ladies raced their stolen luxury cars through a tunnel, we decided it might really be Lost Boys meets Sex in the City. It got more Near Dark-y again when one of the characters got trapped outside her car and caught on fire. But let's backtrack a little.

What makes Wir sind die Nacht a German Near Dark? Wendigo says that a cast of ruthless amoral vampires dragging a hapless human into their life of fun and murder made it so, at least for a while. That's basically the formula of Lost Boys as well, though the Schumacher film portrays the unlife more as a joyride than a crime spree. Overall, Wendigo would say the Near Dark analogy is closer because the German vamps are far more gratuitously destructive than Kiefer Sutherland's crew -- but he feels that you could go either way. The fact that the predators are all beautiful women who consume conspicuously makes it a bloodthirsty Sex in the City and gives it an identity of its own within vampire cinema.

Gansel gives us a mythos backstory in which the world's female vampires -- there are no more than 100 of them on Earth -- exterminated their male counterparts because the men were bossy and stupid. These are somewhat conventional vampires, invisible in mirrors and vulnerable to sustained sunlight. The one rule they have that we know of is that they'll keep vampirism within the gender, which gives the whole story a homoerotic potential that Gansel largely steers clear of. Our heroine Lena (Karoline Herfurth) is a guttersnipe pickpocket who raises the eyebrows of boss vampire Louise (Nina Hoss) when she tries to get her dirty self into the nightclub Louise runs. Something about Lena's eyes gives Louise hope that this time, she'll have found a soulmate, or the nearest thing to one since her maker was destroyed (or destroyed herself) on a beach many years earlier. Wendigo wondered whether Louise had felt the same way about her two established galpals, onetime silent starlet Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich) and ditzy Nora (Anna Fischer). They're all just friends now, though Charlotte gives signs of growing sick of it all, but Louise clearly wants more from Lena, who once vamped gets a supernatural skin treatment and hair extensions along with the expected strength, speed and power to defy gravity. These vamps can walk on ceilings and jump from airplanes without parachutes. But somehow Lena isn't having fun.

Wendigo liked that the film didn't go for either of the obvious directions. Louise and Lena do not become lovers, nor do they become mortal enemies in a revenge feud until the very end of the picture. Not that he has any objection to lesbian vampires, but he liked that being vampirized didn't automatically turn Lena (or Nora, who has a crush on a mortal bellboy) into a lesbian -- which makes things difficult for Louise. This is a glamorous but not romantic vampire film in which vampirized people can't shake lose the baggage of their lives. This is most poignantly shown in Charlotte's subplot, which has her visiting a hospital where her now-elderly daughter lies dying, and deciding afterward to take a walk in the sun. Unlike in some stories, vampirism here doesn't mean losing your soul. Lena is, unusually, a "noble vampire" from the get-go, constantly struggling against the impulse to kill for blood. As Wendigo notes, in fiction a noble vampire doesn't usually start out noble, -- not even Edward Cullen did -- but has an early career of murder prior to a moral transformation. Lena is very much like the heroes of Near Dark and Lost Boys in her scruples, but in the two American films the hero is presumed not to have fully transformed, while Lena has as far as we can tell. She never drinks straight from a vein, except possibly at the very end of the film. Through her, We Are the Night has it both ways, showing the vampire lifestyle as superficially cool while the heroine rejects that coolness.

Perhaps scandalously, Lena rejects the women-only vampire lifestyle for romantic love with a man, to the point of violating the great taboo and guaranteeing a shitstorm for herself in any imagined sequel. The most scandalous thing about this is that the hero, Tom the policeman, is as densely inane as any human male lead in a vampire film dating back to David Manners. Tom is a handsome cretin, a veritable dummkop who admits to becoming a cop because he likes to run around chasing people. He's utterly outwitted by the mortal Lena and seems to have nothing to offer the immortal Lena, except for being a hunk. I guess we have to accept that that's enough.

We watched a dubbed, edited for language version of We Are the Night on FearNet On-Demand. Wendigo felt that the dubbing was okay for the most part -- we'd like to see more dubbing of foreign films to give them a fair chance in the U.S. market and pre-empt Hollywood remakes -- except for the actress who voices Lena in English. She simply sounds too perky -- and too old, Wendigo adds -- for the tough urchin we see on screen. He thought the opening sequence, in which Louise's crew slaughters the crew and passengers of a jetliner and ditch in mid-air with their shopping bags from Paris, was an inspired introduction to the vampires. It established each woman's personality while stressing how alien all three are to humans. He liked the effects and art direction that let the vampires walk on ceilings and walls, as well as little bits like Charlotte putting a cigarette out in her own eye. He also liked most of the action scenes -- though some suffered from the fragmented confusion common to overedited action scenes everywhere. One drawback to watching the thing dubbed was that we lost some of the German-ness of it, particularly an awareness of some of the landmarks that we suspected should have been obvious to us, but weren't. Whether the dubbing actors should have spoken with German accents is a question for another time. But We Are the Night, with its flaws, is decent enough to have broad appeal for horror fans in any language.

Here's an English-language trailer from production company RatPackFilm's YouTube channel.


Erich Kuersten said...

The ridiculous morality of this film really pissed me off. it's okay for this broad to drink out of a glass but when it comes to getting her blood fresh from the spigot she has scruples.. puh lease! It's horrific to think that her acceptance of the bland hunk over the hot Germanic lesbians is some subversion of lesbian vampire principles. What's next for Lena, is she going to start lecturing them on a pro-life creationist platform?

I wrote about this via Vampire Morality Blues and then learned from D.Davis' Spellbound Cinema that kind of let down moral clinging is called 'bad faith' according to Jean Paul Sartre, and he should know.

Samuel Wilson said...

Erich, when we wrote that the ending might scandalize people I had your comments in mind -- but yours is a curious opinion coming from a defender of the Twilight films. You reacted to this one the way Wendigo, knowing me to be a lesbian-vampire fan, expected me to react. Let's not overstate Lena's scruples, though; she starts the film a thief and remains a transgressor throughout --even against the lesbian-vampire rules. All she's really saying to Louise is "you're not the mistress of me!" I'm not sure if that really makes her conformist, but I can also see why her apparent embrace of the dummkop might disappoint many an observer.

Anonymous said...

Lena is not more noble or more more moral than the other 3 female vampires.The only difference between her and the others is that she's a hypocritical bitch.She pretends to have problems by killing humans while she doesn't mind killing at all.
Give Lena a glass of blood and she will swallow it with pleasure.She doesn't care that for that glass innocent people are killed.
At least Louise,Nora and Charlotte admit that they are evil so Lena is the worst of the 4 and she should have chosen for Louise instead of that weak useless dummkop.Louise can offer her so much more and in the final fight between Louise and the"protagonist"
I had rooted for Louise.Sadly Louise lost.

Anonymous said...

You're wrong about Lena. She's not a hypocritical bitch and she's not a weak, useless dummkop. She showed genuine sympathy for the innocent people (ex. Watchman scene) and she is truly a Noble vampire so you're wrong I'm right and all the vampires including her (you heard me that's right) rule and are awesome in every way shape or form.