“30 Days of Night” has been billed as a new take on the Vampire movie. After watching it, the only ‘new’ element I can identify is that the vampires are full-on bad guys this time around. None of that tortured soul, conflicted motivations, touchy-feely nonsense. Just hard core, mean spirited blood sucking and mutilation. Sounds good, right? A horror movie that actually has detestable bad guys. That paints in black and white rather than shades of grey. A purveyor of old-school ultra-violence for the Type-A personality. Well, in theory, yes. But theory and reality are often quite different.
“30 Days of Night” is the sophomore effort from director David Slade, who’s debut feature, “Hard Candy,” was a wicked, if overly ambitious, little psychological thriller. In “30 Days of Night,” he’s gone fully main stream with a fairly formulaic vampire romp. The film begins with a few informative notes about the town of Barrow, Alaska. It is apparently the northernmost town in the U.S. and is 80 miles of roadless tundra from the next town. And given its extreme northerly location, Barrow is plunged into total darkness for 30 days in the heart of winter. This annual phenomenon triggers the exodus of 80% of Barrow’s population before the last sunset, leaving only about 150 hardy folks behind. However, this time Barrow gains about a dozen unwelcome visitors with the loss of sunlight. It seems that a gang of vampires has shown up to feast. And with no sunlight for 30 days, that gives them 720 uninterrupted hours to wreak havoc on the remaining townsfolk.
This particular bunch of blood suckers is a rather nasty lot. They’re in town strictly for plunder. Their imperious leader, played quite convincingly by Danny Huston (“The Kingdom”), declares that none should be turned. They begin their attack as most movie monsters do – zipping on and off screen with lightning speed (though they do slow down to a pedestrian pace when the plot requires) accompanied by ‘boo!’ sound effects before descending en-mass on their lone, hapless, screaming victims. Once they reach the center of town, though, they let loose with a full-on indiscriminant assault. This particular scene is chillingly filmed from an overhead camera, showing the massacre globally in real time. After the initial attack, the dozen or so remaining survivors, led by town sheriff Eben (sleepy-eyed Josh Hartnett, “The Black Dahlia”) and his estranged wife Stella (the DSL-endowed Melissa George, perhaps best known as the blonde chick on “Alias”), furtively move from building to building to reach the relative safety of the local factory while trying to avoid the vampires. Sounds like “Dracula” meets John Carpenter’s “The Thing” meets “Night of the Living Dead.” I suppose we should give the film makers credit for mixing sub-genres.
There isn’t much new brought to the cinematic vampire ethos in this film. They have fangs, drink blood, have superhuman strength and speed and communicate via high-pitched shrieks and squeals. Well, I should amend that last comment. The vampires are given a ‘language’ of their own, complete with subtitles, but it is composed of choking coughs and shrieks and squeals. Their look is a sort of middle ground between F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and the Prada-clad hipsters from the “Blade” and “Underworld” movies. In other words, they look like a bunch of Goth-punk Eurotrash that got kicked out of Prague. But remember, style counts, even when your chin and neck are caked with someone else’s blood.
As is so frequently the case these days, the film is based on a comic book series. I can only assume that the comics are more in-depth and pithy since we get very little information about the vampires in the movie. Where do they come from? How many of them are there? How have they been surviving under the radar of human society and how long have they been around? All good questions that would have amounted to a far more interesting movie if they had been addressed. As it stands, “30 Days of Night” is content to just present the vampires as a matter of fact and move on to the action and gore. And there’s plenty of that to go around. Decapitation is the word of the day, folks. See, the old ‘rules’ about vampires have become quite flexible in recent years. Wooden stakes and garlic are too old fashioned for modern movie audiences, I guess, and Holy Water is a rare commodity in the arctic. Sunlight (UV radiation, specifically) is the one standby, but it seems that impaling implements no longer need to be silver. Decapitation or other methods of catastrophic dismemberment are the current favorites for vampire disposal. To that end, the gore effects are high quality.
As is the film, actually. I suppose that’s what saves it. For all its thematic and narrative shortcomings, “30 Days of Night” is a well crafted film. The setting is suitably foreboding, the monsters are suitably scary, the gore quotient is suitably high and the acting is solid. There isn’t much creativity in evidence, but the horror movie clichés the film makers have cobbled together are assembled with perhaps more care than the material deserves. That might be damning with faint praise, but given the current state of the Horror genre, that’s about the best you can do.
David Slade (director) / Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson (screenplay), Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith (comic)
CAST: Josh Hartnett … Eben Oleson
Melissa George … Stella Oleson
Danny Huston … Marlow
Ben Foster … The Stranger
Mark Boone Junior … Beau Brower
Mark Rendall … Jake Oleson
Amber Sainsbury … Denise
Manu Bennett … Billy Kitka