DVD Review: We Are The Night (2011)
Review by Ben Bussey
I know what you’re thinking, and sadly the answer is no: at no point does anyone in this film say “Ni.” Nor does anyone demand a shrubbery.
Okay, on the off-chance that wasn’t what you were thinking, you might be pondering what a new vampire film from Germany has to offer that we haven’t seen countless times already, particularly given the vast influx of vampire-based media in recent years. Marc contemplated this question last May, when We Are The Night was released in the US, and he found the film to be “far too close to the “pop” side of vampirism” and “highly derivative of too many other films.” I completely agree: We Are The Night really isn’t anything new, charting the misadventures of a newly initiated vampire in much the same manner as The Lost Boys and Near Dark (not that it was even a new story then), whilst giving the action a glossy metropolitan sheen reminiscent of the Blade and Underworld films (again, not that those films necessarily invented it), and of course not neglecting the obligatory post-True Blood charge of eroticism (again…). As Marc also rightly pointed out, it’s so low on scares and suspense that it barely even qualifies as horror.
But is any of this necessarily a bad thing? Alright, so We Are The Night really isn’t scary, nor is it particularly innovative, but provided you don’t take those as cast-iron prerequisites for enjoying movies (and if you do, then you must be used to regular disappointment), you may find it revisits familiar territory with just enough gusto, style and freshness to make for a perfectly enjoyable 100 minutes. It was one of the films I enjoyed most at FrightFest 2012, for the simple reason that, unlike many other films screened at the festival, it sets out simply to entertain, rather than shock and appal. I’ve long since been sick to my back teeth of dick-swinging pseudo-edgy torture films and their desperation to impress everyone with how big and nasty they are. Me, I want horror to be fun again, like the kind of films that got me into the genre in the first place – which includes the likes of The Lost Boys. And the real trick is, being fun does not mean having nothing to say. We Are The Night understands this, and provides some nice introspection on what it might mean to be a vampire in this day and age; or more specifically, to be a female vampire, in a world with no male vampires left.
When we first meet our heroine Lena (Karoline Herfurth), you’ll be forgiven for thinking her name is Lisbeth. Well, if she has a dragon tattoo we never get to see it, but otherwise it’s much the same MO: tough, smart, emo tomboy loner from the wrong side of the tracks. Picking pockets to get by, she narrowly escapes getting busted by a young stud of a policeman named Tom (Max Riemelt) thanks to her quick wits and quick feet. Later that night, anxious to escape the lonely tedium of her mother’s apartment, she hits the streets and soon finds herself at an underground rave thrown by Louise (Nina Hoss), six-odd feet of platinum blonde femme fatale. And wouldn’t you know it: she’s the local vampire queen, along with her equally vivacious protégés Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich) and Nora (Anna Fischer). Louise has spent centuries in search of the reincarnation of her one true love, and thinks she may have found it in Nina. A few nibbles later and Nina is transformed into a whole new woman, with the promise of eternal wonders ahead. But is immortality all it’s cracked up to be, and do the ends justify the means?
Yes, there’s some pretty classic vampire lore at play here, where vamps cast no reflection and sunlight hits them like napalm. This certainly isn’t a PG-13 take on the undead, given Nora’s ecstatic declaration that they can eat, drink, snort coke and fuck as much as they want without any repercussions. Even so, while the film hints at the decadent excesses that might come with such a way of life, these are not shown in detail. While the leads are plenty sexy, sex itself is notable by its absence; and for once, the only gratuitous nudity is of the male variety. Violence is more common, but still comparatively mild, as the 15 certificate might suggest. Again, this may be my torture movie exhaustion speaking, but I actually found this de-emphasis on the visceral excesses to be fairly refreshing. It means that the focus instead is on the characters and their interplay, which is a good thing, given that this is a pretty well acted and well written film.
Above all the film emphasises the lifestyle clashes of Lena and the vampires. One particularly unique and interesting moment shows Lena literally transform as her vampirism takes hold; submerging herself in a bath, her hair grows and regains its natural colour, and all her piercings, tattoos, scars and blemishes wash away like mud. Immediately thereafter she’s swept away in the designer dresses and luxury cars that the vamps don’t leave home without. Yes, it’s a definite Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club moment, but to the credit of writer-director Dennis Gansel and co-writer Jan Berger, the artifice of Lena’s new look/new life is apparent immediately. She hasn’t changed on her own terms; she’s being moulded into what Louise wants her to be. In the meantime, that handsome, charming young copper Tom hasn’t lost interest in Lena, but he’s not so keen to take her downtown anymore; well, not unless we’re using that phrase as some sort of vulgar euphemism. But which, if any of these is offering Lena the life she really wants? Louise champions vampirism as some kind of anarcho-feminist ideal, freed from the tyrannical rule of men, but in coming under her wing has Lena not simply traded one oppression for another?
But hey, if you don’t care to engage with all that fancy thinking, remember what I said earlier: We Are The Night is first and foremost designed to be fun, and in this it is certainly successful. It has a likeable cast, a fast pace, great cinematography, some witty gags (look out for a literary nod to rival Evil Dead 2′s use of A Farewell To Arms), and some really nice visual tricks up its sleeve for showing the world from a vampiric perspective: the dark is rich and detailed, whilst the light is overwhelming. Our vampire ladies walk on walls and ceilings, their bodies jerk violently at the taste of blood, and their undead eyes sparkle (just the eyes, mind). The accompanying featurette states that Gansel had been working on the project for over a decade, and this is easy to believe, as none of the characters come off half-baked, and there are clear hints of a broader mythology which could easily be explored further should they care to make a sequel; the ambiguous climax certainly leaves things open for them to do so.
We Are The Night is released to Region 2 DVD on 15th October 2012, from Momentum.