Saturday, July 16, 2011

Girl on...Movie? Action: Wir Sind Die Nacht

Wir Sind die Nacht (We are the Night) (2010)
Director: Dennis Gansel
Writers: Jan Berger, Dennis Gansel
My Thoughts:

My most devoted little sunflowers will probably know this, but just in case: yes, I'm actually studying vampires and doing my thesis on the most iconic vampire flick of all times.  What this means is that I’m more or less required to see at least every other new fang-banger movie (this is often torturous).  So when the opportunity presented itself for me to see Wir Sind die Nacht, a new German contribution to the ever-enlarging corpus of the bloodsucker tale, I couldn’t say no.  Now, I’m here to tell you all about it.

First, let me say that I am grateful that I’m bilingual (you didn’t know that, did you?) because it makes for a better movie-watching experience.  I always miss important visual clues when I’m reading subtitles (it’s why I go easy on the foreign films).  And sure, this particular movie wasn’t overly subtle, but it was pretty to look at, so I was glad not to have to read to follow along.

Second, don’t go into this expecting the resurrection of Nosferatu, because it’s not (nothing will ever equal Nosferatu).  What you can expect is a glitzy, blood-drenched debauch around Berlin with a touch of police drama, a bit of lesbianism, and a lot of vampires combusting as the sun rises (talk about canon! That’s how Count Orlok dies!  And if I’ve just spoiled the ending of a movie made in 1922 for you, you can go cry me a river, preferably one of blood). 

Introductory thoughts aside, let me take a step back and give you a quick run-down of the story.  Lena, a pickpocket and all-around little badass, steals money from a guy after he hits the ATM.  Little does she know that the cops are about to nab him, which results in the boys in blue chasing after her.  A handsome young police officer nearly catches her, but she punches him in the face, knees him in the balls and escapes.  For him, it’s love at first kick.  That night, a bedraggled Lena finds her way to an underground club operating beneath what looks like an abandoned amusement park and is there bitten by a blonde vampire lady.  She goes from being a nobody with nothing to a life of decadence and luxury – one of the first things Louise (the golden-locked bloodsucker mentioned above) gives her is a stolen Lamborghini.  Unsurprisingly, we follow the same plot points a lot of these types of transformation stories take - our newly turned vampire has problems accepting her need for blood (though, thankfully, she doesn't become another Louis) and she still has the hots for that pesky cop which is a no-no (all the male vampires have been killed, some by the female vampires – Nora [the quirky, fun-loving vampire of the coven] says they were too loud and stupid to be allowed to live).

It’s a straightforward plot and doesn’t add anything new to the fairly worn out vampire genre.  I think its strength lies in the characters (although these are also nothing new per se).  Okay, so I might have a soft spot for spunky misfit girl pickpockets with shaggy haircuts and piercings, but I really dug Lena (Karoline Herfurth, you might recognize her from Perfume), both pre- and post-transformation.  Something about the way she carried herself appealed to me.  The wonder at the world of the female vampires, their unabashed consumerism and then the slow dawning horror as she confronts the truth of their existence, were both well-done.  The vulnerability that Herfurth portrayed after Lena’s transformation was breath taking – the character went from unafraid and tough to frightened and fragile, as if turning into a vampire stripped away her personality and laid her bare and by the end she seems to regain a grip on who she is and what she wants.  Louise, the lady in charge, overpowers her and it isn’t until she stands up to her that Lena is able to accept her strength.  Oddly enough, the villainess is probably the least dynamic character in the whole movie.  She was flat and while there is an attempt to show that she acts from a place of deep loneliness it didn’t connect for me.  The other two vamps each have their moments of weakness that give a glimpse of their struggles and motivations, but Louise, despite some monologues about her feelings just doesn’t manage to make an emotional appeal.  She stays one dimensional, boring and unconvincing.

As far as what the story is doing with the vampire mythos, I can tell you that it’s not bringing anything new to the table.  Aside from the idea that the female vampires helped exterminate the males and now refuse to create new ones, everything remains true to canon.  Although, the only method of killing a vampire ever shown is them bursting into flames as the sun hits them, so who knows if the old stake to the heart would work.

You’ll notice that I’ve avoided talking about the police subplot so far, but I suppose I should address that pink elephant.  Handsome young police guy abuses his power some to track down Lena – which is totally not creepy right? And he gets assigned to a case that’s connected to the vampires after they initiate Lena into their life by taking her to some seedy brothel, selling her to a guy and then letting her beat the crap out of him.  Anyway, the vampires kill a bunch of people and then set them on fire and police guy is on the case!  So boring.  I guess the movie felt that Lena needed a male love-interest to balance out the decadence and debauchery of the female Coven, but it just felt forced (I know, I know, I'm getting dangerously close to Wren's anti-romance territory here, but I can't help it! It was bad!).  Slight spoilers of the end on the horizon! I think her coming to terms with her new lifestyle and rejecting it for its emptiness on her own would have been more profound – choosing a lonely existence away from the excess of Louise is a more powerful conclusion than defying what she’s been told and (probably) turning Tom into the first male vampire in however-many years (though it is very Underworld-y).  And they’ve passed like a cloud over the sun.

It might not be rewriting the genre, or reinvigorating a worn out monster, but Wir Sind die Nacht held my attention (okay, it wavered a little in some of the scenes with goody-two-shoes cop, but not much!) and left me with that buzzing excitement of having watched something enjoyable.  I think if you dig vampires, you might want to try to track this down.  I know it saw a limited release in theatres and I read somewhere that it’s available through “on-demand” cable services.  I assume that those are either dubbed or subtitled for the benefit of North American viewers.  Personally, I might have to see about convincing one of my European relations to send me a care-package with the DVD.

In closing, let me leave you with this thought: the most ridiculous (and awesome) moment of the movie was Charlotte tearing a page out of a book she was reading (blasphemy, I know) and then using it to slice someone’s throat – death by paper cut!  I might have “squee’d” and clapped my hands in an imitation of Wren when it happened.

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