Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gansel’s We Are the Night

Could there be a more hospitable city for vampires than Berlin? With an architecture mixing Soviet drabness with faded Art Deco, even its Western quarters are pretty depressed looking. Yet, despite its dark and deadly history, the city has quite a nightlife that a small pack of women vampires enjoys to the fullest in Dennis Gansel’s We Are the Night (dubbed trailer here), which opens this Friday at the ReRun Gastropub as part of an old fashioned double feature with Gansel’s Sundance buzz-generating The Wave.

Lena is a pick-pocket with a record. Tom Serner is a police detective on the job for the adrenaline rush. You could say they meet cute if Run Lola Run is your idea of cute. Though she temporarily gives him the slip, she makes quite an impression. Unfortunately, she also attracts the attention of Louise, a centuries-old vampire searching for the reborn spirit of the vampire who turned her. Believing Lena might be her, she gives the young woman the transforming bite. Of course, Louise has been down this road before, as her fellow vamps Charlotte and Nora can attest.

Turning men is a big no-no. Only women vampires remain undead. The men were either killed off by us mortals or the women themselves. They were just too messy and conspicuous. However, Louise’s pack has been getting somewhat sloppy lately and their taste in cars is hardly discreet. Naturally, a cop like Serner will start putting together the pieces. Perhaps more ominously, he also stokes Louise’s jealousy. Carnage will ensue.

Night’s MVP might just be its location scout, who found some incredibly photogenic sites that put CGI and matte paintings to shame. The film gives viewers a visceral sense of both the energy and the oppressiveness of the city. That Berliner environment seems to fuel the film, as Gansel gleefully careens from amped-up urban action sequences to high gothic horror.

As Louise, Nina Hoss (recognizable to American audiences from German imports like A Woman in Berlin and Jerichow) is a far icier vampire than the Anne Rice standard, in an appropriately Teutonic way. Yet, she certainly conveys the vampire’s appetites in no uncertain terms. In fact, Hoss digs into the scenery and the gore in a manner worthy of Hammer Horror at its most indulgent. Jennifer Ulrich is almost equally creepy as Charlotte, a former silent film star falling into a Norma Desmond-like depression, while Anna Fischer plays Nora, the vampy ingénue, to the coquettish hilt. Unfortunately, Karoline Herfurth’s Lena is a bit too passive and retiring for a good supernatural protagonist. However, Max Riemelt exceeds the expectations for a thankless part like salt-of-the-earth Det. Serner, displaying some legit action cred and a surprisingly degree of screen presence.

Make no mistake, these vampires are not in Berlin to brood sensitively. They mean business. Loaded with noir style and featuring some clever riffs on traditional vampire mythos, Night is just such a welcome respite from the current crop of teenaged vampire films and television shows. Enthusiastically recommended, Night is top-flight genre entertainment. It opens this Friday (5/27), properly subtitled with Gansel’s Wave, at the ReRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn.