30 Days of Night (2007) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running time: 113 min.
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mrk Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett, Megan Franich
Director: David Slade
Screenplay: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson
Review published October 22, 2007
Based on the comic book, 30 Days of Night imagines a scenario where vampires decide to attack a small Alaskan town known to annually have 30 straight days without sunlight. Steve Niles, who wrote the original three-issue series, also wrote the screenplay used for the film, along with professional screenwriters Stuart Beattie (Derailed, Collateral) and Brian Nelson (who scripted the director's previous film, Hard Candy). Given that there is little dialogue and with the exception of the climax, not many interesting twists, it's a bit of a letdown that talented people could only produce such a lackluster diversion. Only the setting and premise make it stand out from the hordes of vampire and zombie features churned out on a seemingly regular basis these days. In the world of comics, this sort of story is a niche novelty; in the movies, it's just another entry that reminds you of the last ten you've seen.
Like most modern horror flicks, characterizations are sketchy. Hartnett stars as Barrow, Alaska's law enforcement officer, Eben Oleson (Hartnett, Resurrecting the Champ). He's currently spatting with his wife Stella (George, Turistas), and tension in his life is high, especially as the town is just entering into its month-long dark period. Most of the town's residents leave until it's over, but a few hearty souls stay to keep things running. Strange events are starting to occur, including such things as cell phones being destroyed, transportation demolished and sled dogs slaughtered. As Eben tries to uncover the root of the problem, he comes to the dark realization that outsiders are among them, and they are picking off the residents of Barrow one by one for reasons that eventually become apparent -- they are vampires and it is time for a feeding.
Jump-scares and gore are about all that's on the agenda, in this very anemic horror excursion that offers little suspense, and consequently, little to care about or be frightened by. If unsavory imagery is all it takes to get your heart racing, perhaps you'll find it intense, but anyone who has seen any of the R-rated horror films to come out in the last couple of years has seen gorier, grislier and much more harrowing.
The vampires have their own language, which sounds akin to Klingon. Perhaps fans of the film mistake the subtitles that appear under as making the film akin to foreign cinema, and therefore high art. Of course, only through the subtitles do we find out such things as the way to kill them isn't through a stake through the heart, but rather, separating their heads from their bodies, Highlander-style. Of course, the townspeople, who must be able to see the subtitles as well, figure this out without actually figuring it out. They just so happen to naturally go for beheadings when they are attacking.
The icy setting will have you recalling John Carpenter's The Thing, along with the jumpy camerawork and bloodiness of 28 Days Later. By being constantly reminded of how each element worked so much better in earlier films, it doesn't bode in director David Slade's favor, as he does very little that doesn't regurgitate from the styles of others, and does it with little perceptible efficiency. The only way to make this film work would be to have us actually care about the characters under attack, but outside of showing that there is a spat happening between the husband and wife characters, there's almost no development whatsoever before all hell breaks loose in the town. Character touches fall under the heading of "factoid that will be factored in later in the plot" variety, such as grandma's pot habit means she has an ultraviolet lamp (the vampires get crispy from UV rays), etc.
Unless you thirst for beheadings that gush forth rivers of black blood and grimaces of gnarly teeth, 30 Days of Night feels more like 30 minutes of story padded out to near the two hour mark. I'm not trying to suggest drugs are in order to be able to sit through it, but you might need to pop a few pills to curb the gore-induced nausea and motion sickness that results from incessant fits of jittery attacks. Perhaps something that makes you drowsy will also be warranted, so you can nap right on through the perpetual noise right to the end credits. Even if you've seen them before, you'd be better off watching The Thing and 28 Days Later back to back, as this regurgitation offers little not already covered, and nothing that merits trading time or money to witness.
©2007 Vince Leo