The Quarantine Stream: Kathryn Bigelow's 'Near Dark' Features A Killer Bill Paxton Performance

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: Near DarkWhere You Can Stream It: The Criterion ChannelThe Pitch: Boy meets girl. Girl is a vampire. Girl bites boy, and her gang of vampire friends takes him under their wing. Can he handle the lifestyle?Why It's Essential Quarantine Viewing: There are several reasons to recommend this movie, but the late Bill Paxton's supporting performance is at the very top of the list. He's a live wire here, playing a loose cannon vampire who feels like pure danger slinking around in a skin-tight leather jacket. Paxton tragically passed away in 2017 at the age of 61, and if he had to die before his time, I'm glad he got to deliver this absolutely kick-ass performance in director Kathryn Bigelow's explosive thriller before he went.

Robert Rodriguez memorably inserted vampires into a western in his 1996 movie From Dusk Till Dawn, but Bigelow did the same thing nearly a decade earlier in her 1987 film Near Dark. Rodriguez took an over the top approach with in-your-face make-up effects, but Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red chose a more realistic tack here, imagining what a group of roving vampires might actually look like as they move through the dusty plains of the American Midwest. The vampire gang, led by an intimidating Lance Henriksen, cruises around during the day in vehicles with the windows blacked out – spray-painted or covered with aluminum foil to protect the bloodsuckers from burning in the sun. Later in the film, blood transfusions are used to try to reverse the effect of becoming a vampire. I'm far from a vampire movie expert, but I don't think I've seen another vampire film that treats its subject matter as if it's a real-world condition in quite this same way.

For me, the movie's biggest downside is that the lead actor, Adrian Pasdar, is hunky but doesn't bring much more to the movie than rugged good looks. (Billy Zane would have absolutely crushed this role.) But there are so many great things to recommend here: the excellent western-style showdown during its climax, the sheer confidence in the filmmaking, the way Bigelow uses lighting and fog to create incredible shots that don't really make sense within the world of the film but just look fucking cool, or the perfect hour and a half runtime, which more modern movies should try to replicate.

But really, it's all about Paxton. He dominates every scene he's in (in the best way), leering and seething and smoldering and killing his way across the movie, often with blood all over him. It's an oddly sexy performance – he spends most of the movie doing awful things, including murdering innocent people in cold blood, but there's something about his combination of danger, swagger, and style that makes him irresistible to watch. When it comes down to him vs. Pasdar's slab of beef protagonist, I found myself hoping Paxton would prevail.