Title: We Are the Night
Director: Dennis Gansel
Starring: Karoline Herfurth, Nina Hoss, Jennifer Ulrich, Anna Fischer, Max Riemelt
Base-line expectations, just as in real life, can sometimes be a powerful determinant when it comes to movies. Given that the Twilight craze has made all things vampire hot once more, one could certainly be forgiven for settling into We Are the Night with a sleepy yawn, thinking it no more than a hollow, hyped-up European genre exercise owing its entire existence merely to a recent trend. On the contrary, German filmmaker Dennis Gansel’s movie is an engaging, well sketched, punky romp that, in telling the story of a hedonistic all-female vampire clan whose delicate balance is upset when they add a new member to their cabal, actually has some interesting things to say about feminine competitiveness and relationships.
Not to be confused with We Own the Night, the New York-set crime film starring Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes and Mark Wahlberg, Gansel’s film centers around Lena (Karoline Herfurth), a 20-year-old Berliner and petty thief who in a pinch could stand in for either of the protagonists of Run Lola Run or La Femme Nikita. When the audience first meets her, she’s fleeing a cop after pinching a wallet. When the police officer, Tom (Max Riemelt), finally catches her after she tries to change guises, she smashes him in the face and makes a daring leap to safety off of a bridge, flashing a victorious middle finger to add insult to injury.
Later that week, at an underground club, Lena meets the striking if vaguely Aryan Louise (Nina Hoss), who turns out to be a 250-year-old vampire. An unfortunate bathroom encounter leaves Lena bitten but alive, so she becomes one of them, later cautiously seeking out and joining up with Louise and her two other friends — wild child Nora (Anna Fischer), who likes to collect fancy sports cars, and ex-silent star Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich), who smokes cigarettes through a long-stemmed holder and seems to harbor a swallowed disdain for everyone around her. Louise lays out the particulars of their situation: the only vampires left, numbering around 40 in Europe and 100 worldwide, are females. The men were “too loud, or too stupid,” more easily hunted by humans and then finished off by the peeved lady vampires.
After a brutal training session acclimates her to her new reality, Lena for a short while basks in the unadulterated glow of consequence-free excess. Her tattoos melt away, and her short, closely cropped hair blossoms beautifully, as if from a shampoo commercial. Lena is also privately heartbroken, though, when her mother doesn’t seem to even notice that she’s been gone for two full days. And while Louise seems to think destiny has brought she and Lena together, Lena isn’t so sure. Things get more complicated when Tom locates Lena, and starts asking questions. After she and the rest of the girls are linked to a recent murder, a police dragnet threatens to rip the group apart — if not literally then certainly in terms of the bonds that keep them together.
A spunky mash-up of vampire flick and police procedural, with just a dash of doomed romance courtesy of the burgeoning relationship between Lena and Tom, We Are the Night feels like it could be a Luc Besson genre movie; it’s smart, well photographed and thoughtful without being too serious. Gansel gives the action scenes a nice charge, but isn’t concerned with gore or bloodletting simply for the sake of get-your-rocks-off violence. The cinematography, by Torston Breur, is artfully composed, and an abundance of evocative settings — a club rave, an abandoned theme park, an indoor pool — give the film an ethereal quality without coming across as overly contrived. The plotting eventually succumbs somewhat to genre expectations, and a more direct conflict between Louise and Lena, but the acting is strong and consistent enough throughout to more than make up for the familiarity of the movie’s third act pivots.
If there’s a big drawback, it’s that the film arrives Stateside in dubbed form. While this in theory may widen its potential audience, in reality it robs We Are the Night of a piece of its original voice — literally and metaphorically. Some things translate quite well universally, and vampires are one of those things. No need to switch the language.
Note: In addition to its theatrical engagements, We Are the Night is also now available nationwide on VOD.
Written by: Brent Simon