It is rare that I will watch German-produced films and rarer still that I will watch any as good as We are the Night (Wir sind die Nacht). This is a movie that is not only dark and filled with license but also rich with deep thematic material.
The story centers on Lena, a young thief who encounters Louise, a smooth, wealthy woman living the high-life with her companions, Nora and Charlotte. Lena is quickly introduced to their world of expensive clothing, hot cars, and fine food. At first she is taken by the power and thrills afforded to her, but soon becomes aware of the darkness and evil that surrounds the group. By the end of the film, Lena must decide if her new life is worth the cost and becomes torn between what Louise can offer and Tom, a cop with whom she has developed a relationship.
Beyond the basic plot of the film, there are several themes that the story deals with. Firstly, there is the classic conflict between good and evil and light and darkness, a theme that the genre illustrates quite well. Lena is a thief and clearly a bad person, but it is apparent that she can’t accept the crimes committed by the other women. Another theme is Lena’s internal struggle between who she is and who she is becoming. There is also the external struggle between Lena’s resistance to the death around her and Louise’s dominant hold over. When Lena is suddenly thrust into this new world, she becomes adrift and must rediscover herself.
We can relate to these characters and the themes in their story because, while the film’s central characters are fantastical, they also typify human nature, personifying in a way lust, desire, and wickedness. Louise is a driven individual, destroying anyone who gets in her way, yet she also has quiet reflective moments, as when she tells Lena about her past. She also has the typical human need for love and acceptance, though she expresses it in her own way. Charlotte is dark and brooding, hung up over her old life, and often seeming to contemplate how her life could have been different.
The acting is another area where We Are the Night does well. There are some powerful performances that really push the film to being more than a formulaic horror flick. Nina Hoss is excellent as Louise, portraying a character that is not only domineering, obsessive, and psychotic, but also reflective and caring in her own way. Jennifer Ulrich playing Charlotte makes a real connection to the viewer, giving an air of sadness and nostalgia. As Charlotte tells Lena in one particularly memorable scene, she lost her daughter in the 1920s. This gives her a humanizing aspect to her typically cold and indifferent appearance. This conversation also provides a lead-in to a later scene when the women are on the run and Ulrich delivers an emotional reunion and parting with her now aged daughter.
The really strong performances, however, come from Karoline Herfurth whose portrayal of Lena is excellent from beginning to end. Herfurth shows a breadth of different aspects of Lena from downtrodden, abused, and dirty to strong, beautiful, and increasingly at home in her new life. Lena goes through a volatile range of emotions from her outrage at Louise for transforming her to her fear and anger after being sold to a Russian prostitution den to her uneasiness around the other women and their lifestyle. What really defines the character, however, is the dramatic ending scene where Lena, beaten and dirty, must face off against Louise and make a decision that genre fans will know well. The acting here is stunning and provides an emotional tone to what could have been a cheesy ending.
We Are the Night is an intricately told story that reaches for more than lowbrow violence and cheap scares with its distinct characters, ambiguous villain, deep themes and motifs, and solid acting. But what really makes this a good movie is that it is a story of self-discovery and invites viewers along on Lena’s journey to find herself.