For decades, scholars analyzed vampire fiction, appropriately so, for coded LGBT subtext. However, there is nothing “coded” about Charlie Steeds’ latest entry into the genre space, After Dark. Tossing subtlety to the wind, Steeds bathes characters in a gorgeous bisexual color palette throughout an orgy of bloody, sweat, and sex. For his efforts, we’re treated to one of the hottest vampire encounters ever put to film when Izabella (Jéssica Alonso) seduces Jennifer (Natalie Martins) at a night club–absolutely nailing the energy of 80’s genre staples in the process.
Steeds updates classic tropes with a contemporary eye and modern setting while maintaining a strong commitment to practical effects. The main cast all feel like genuine, contemporary people who must navigate their way through an older set of characters that might as well have walked right out of an 80’s movie, including Barrington De La Roche (Winterskin, The Barge People) and Jonathan Hansler (dressed and styled to resemble 80’s mainstay Dabney Coleman). The result is a film that serves as a love letter to films like The Lost Boys or Fright Night while still maintaining its own uniqueness and heart.
Besides De La Roche, After Dark reunites Steeds with Martins (The Barge People) and Alonso (An English Haunting). Alonso positively seduces the scenery as a fantastically over-the-top villainess. Meanwhile, Martins’ portryal of Jennifer carries the most pronounced character arc. Rounding out the main cast are upstart Peter Lofsgard (The Mummy), as Jennifer’s roommate, Jack, and Derek Nelson (Pandamonium, Cabin 28) as Jack’s love interest, Freddie. The quartet are thrust into simultaneous conflict and alliance as they must quickly wrestle with the consequences of the world of vampirism.
While I have no hesitation in saying After Dark is Steeds’ best film I’ve seen to date, lighting in outdoor and daylight scenes admittedly leaves something to be desired. The transitions between the outdoors and areas of controlled lighting provide some of the starkest contrast in a film already working hard to blend modern and traditional tones. It’s understandable if it proves too much for some viewers. But I personally enjoyed Steeds’ color palette so much that I find myself extremely forgiving of any technical flaws. As far as I’m concerned, this is a worthy entry in modern vampire cinema and will undoubtedly enter my permanent rotation.
After Dark made its world premiere at the 2020 SOHOME Horror Film Festival, Pride Edition on June 27, 2020.
‘After Dark’ brings the spectacular queerness of vampire lore out of the closet