30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010) Movie Review

“30 Days of Night: Dark Days”, the sequel to David Slade’s 2007 movie starring Josh Harnett and Melissa George, would seem to have the deck stacked against it. First of all, it’s a direct-to-DVD sequel (never a good starting point) to a moderately hit film; secondly, a new actress is playing the female lead; and lastly, the director’s previous credits are limited to some webisodes. On the plus side, Steve Niles, who created the franchise in comic book form before translating it to the big screen, returns as one of the sequel’s writers, and director Ben Ketai’s resume, though light, leans heavily towards the “30 Days of Night” franchise. So yeah, while “Dark Days” appears to have not a whole lot going for it, and indeed, has every excuse to fail, the finished product is surprisingly decent.

“Lost’s” Kiele Sanchez steps in for Melissa George as Stella Oleson, a survivor of the vampire attack on Barrow, Alaska (as seen in the first movie). Now a roaming author in the States, Stella spends her time giving lectures and trying to convince the populace that vampires exist, and that the official story about her town’s demise was all a lie ginned up by the vampires and their human collaborators. Of course, no one believes her – except for three vampire hunters that have come to recruit her for a mission. Paul (Rhys Coiro), Todd (Harold Perrineau), and Amber (Diora Baird) have all lost loved ones to the vampires, and have arrived in L.A. to take out vampire Queen Lilith (Mia Kirshner). They recruit a reluctant Stella, who joins in on the fun only after she learns that Lilith may have been the one responsible for arranging the attack on Barrow in the first place.

Aiding the hunters is a Dane (Ben Cotton), a rare “good” vampire who may or may not be trustworthy. The sequel also delves more into the cult of vampires, and humans that want to become bloodsuckers and are working for the creatures by covering up their existence to earn the privilege of getting “turned” by the powerful and feared Lilith herself. Fronting “Dark Days” is Kiele Sanchez, who is hit and miss as Stella early on, but does eventually warm to the role of vampire killer thanks to a handy cinderblock. Stella spends much of the film in a fog, downing pills and carrying a gun to bed. Having lost her husband and her town to the vampires has not exactly resulted in a very cheery Stella. Fortunately for her, payback is well within reach, and as they say, payback is a bitch.

Sanchez is supported by Diora Baird, hilariously miscast as a tough talking badass who transforms into a whimpering mess of goo at the first sign of shit hitting the fan. The former Maxim model spends much of the film looking like someone handed her an Uzi and told her, “Go play a badass vampire killer!” which she gamely attempts to do. If nothing else, watching Baird look completely out of her element among the violence and blood and gore is good for some chuckles. More convincing as vampire hunters are Rhys Coiro and Harold Perrineau (Sanchez’s fellow “Lost” refugee). Coiro is surprisingly effective, given that the last time I saw him was sliming his way through a season of “24”. He’s the leading man and love interest for Stella, which translates into a lot of scenes of the two sitting around whispering war stories and making hesitant eyes at each other. Perrineau is also good, but as per genre rules, the black guy always gets it first.

As with the first movie, “Dark Days” continues its interpretation of vampires as a primal, vicious species that have no relations to the lovable lugs of “Twilight” and its ilk. Director Ben Ketai and the script by he and series creator Steve Niles keeps the film faithful to the tone set by David Slade’s movie. The vampires are still very dangerous, guttural creatures led by the slithering Lilith, played very well by Mia Kirshner. There’s a low-intensity feel to “Dark Days” that makes for an understated viewing, and props to Ketai and Niles for keeping the film very gritty throughout, since I’m sure the temptation was probably there to pile on the bodies. Of course, the lack of a huge budget probably necessitated this as well, but I like to think they meant to make the movie on the “down low”, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

There are some good CG effects in “Dark Days” (Stella’s UV trap for the bloodsuckers is particularly nifty), but for the most part the sequel isn’t very flashy, and indeed, its budget probably didn’t allow for a whole lot of flash, which fits the story just fine. The sequel is based on the limited series of the same name by Niles and artist Ben Templesmith, though it detours greatly from the comics, a curious fact given that Niles also wrote the comic. You would think he might feel the need to be a bit more faithful to his own work, particularly in the comic’s rendering of Stella as having grown into a fearsome vampire killer, something she never really becomes in the movie, but not so much. The beginning and ending are faithfully translated, but everything in-between couldn’t be more different. The vampire Dane, who figures much more prominently (and, ahem, intimately) into Stella’s life in the comics, has been limited to a plot device in the movie, and one that isn’t even all that crucial from what I can tell.

“Dark Days” is best approached as a smaller, toned down version of David Slade’s slick and expensive “30 Days of Night”. Being a direct-to-DVD sequel does not allow the film to be more than that, unfortunately, and to their credit Ketai and Niles have kept things on a relatively small-scale while still hinting at a grander story. If the sequel does well on DVD, you can expect more “30 Days of Night” stories similar to this one. Maybe next time we can see Stella fully embrace her badass vampire killing self.

“30 Days of Night: Dark Days” slashes its way onto DVD/Blu-ray October 5, 2010.

Ben Ketai (director) / Steve Niles, Ben Ketai (screenplay), Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith (comic)
CAST: Kiele Sanchez … Stella Oleson
Diora Baird … Amber
Mia Kirshner … Lilith
Harold Perrineau … Todd
Rhys Coiro … Paul
Ben Cotton … Dane

Buy 30 Days of Night: Dark Days on DVD