30 DAYS OF NIGHT
Director: David Slade
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett
MPAA Rating: (for strong horror violence and language)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 10/19/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
As a horror movie, 30 Days of Night nearly passes muster on atmosphere alone. The old real estate motto of location, location, location feels appropriate here, as the backdrop for this straightforward vampire movie turns into the star. Set within a remote mining town in Alaska, the setting inherently imbues the movie with a sense of isolation and imminent-death dread. As a pure mood piece, 30 Days of Night could have worked splendidly, but alas, it has more (and hence less) on its plate than that aim. The movie ignores the psychological toll on people separated from the world and hunted like animals and instead turns their situation into an excuse for slaughter and bloodletting. The characters are stock, but in this case, it's not an innate problem. The movie slows down too much when it tries to flesh them out before their flesh is ripped. The soundtrack ludicrously, noisily bumps up in the shock moments, because for all the dread of the location, there's very little suspense to be had when you know nine out of ten characters that appear on screen are going to end up dead. The villains are more nerve-grating than nerve-wracking. The result is a fine-looking but recyclable horror movie.
The city is Barrow, Alaska (a real place that won't benefit from any tourism as a result of the movie). We learn in the opening text that it is the northernmost city in the United States and that, for a month each year (over two months in reality, I learn), there is no sun. A stranger to the town (Ben Foster, looking and sounding like a younger version of the grizzled town drunk in a Western) watches as a freighter arrives on the icy shores. It's the last day of sunlight when the city's sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his fellow officer Billy (Manu Bennett) find a pile of burnt cell phones. As is usual this time of year, most of the population is preparing to leave, including Eben's separated wife Stella (Melissa George), but she faces car trouble in the form of a collision with an ice tractor. There are a lot of strange things happening in town: Someone kills all of the sled dogs and dismantles the town's helicopter. By the time the sun sets, Stella is stuck in Barrow, and the stranger, in jail after causing a ruckus in the local watering hole, warns the remaining folks at the police station that they're all about to die.
Death comes in the form of a sharp-toothed, red-eyed, long fingernailed, digitally facially squashed band of Eurotrash vampires (led by Danny Huston), who kill off the city's power operator and a few other obvious victims before taking to the streets and killing everyone in sight. There's an impressive helicopter shot that looks down on the carnage, but before that, the chaos everywhere and anywhere is randomly intercut with Eben and the gang discovering that something's rotten in their city. Meanwhile, the stranger cryptically tells everyone, "That cold you feel—that's death coming," and "I don't talk to dead men," and sadly wonders why the vampires didn't take him. The vampires, sly devils that they are, don't want to change anyone in town, which means they have to remove their victims' heads. The vampires are more annoying than anything else. They constantly screech, and their arrival is pounded home with insanely loud bursts of music and noise on the soundtrack, a cheap way to attempt to startle an audience instead of taking the time to legitimately scare them. At one point, one bloodsucker is undone by a swing set, so they're not the brightest lot either.
Eben, Stella, and the few survivors hole up in an attic, while outside, the vampires torture a young woman they used for bait before finishing her off. Holocaust allusions aside, there's simply no depth to the story. The survivors fight amongst themselves about whether or not they should move, and suddenly they're on day seven of the assault. There are huge shifts in time, but they don't affect the characters in any way (although Eben grows a goatee that never changes after a month). The movie does have some worthwhile, bloody action sequences, including an attack on the vampires with the earlier introduced ice tractor that is so over-the-top and unlikely it works (How a character survives a full-on blast of dynamite is a complete mystery, though). Later on, the dreary atmosphere lends itself to less explicit scenes, as when Eben is reunited with Billy only to discover the horrible things his partner thought he had to do (a sheet with blood is thankfully and effectively the extent gore here). The climax is typical supernatural battling, and the fact that the movie tries for an emotional resonance to it fails.It's not quite as bad as it sounds, but that's only because director David Slade establishes the barren city's ambiance so early and so well. 30 Days of Night is based on a graphic novel, and perhaps we've been spoiled by the recent adaptations of Frank Miller's work into thinking that movies based on comics can be more than just a series of attractively grotesque images.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.