April 2024

30 Days of Night (2007)

DIRECTOR: David Slade

CAST: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior


30 Days of Night, adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stuart Beattie) and a product of director David Slade and producer Sam Raimi’s (director of the Spider-Man films) Ghost House Pictures, isn’t the groundbreaking, revolutionary entry in the vampire genre that some have hyped it up to be, but it’s got a few attributes that make it an above-average bloodsucker flick: if the characters occasionally make dubious strategic decisions, they at least remain plausible characters and a level above the brainless vampire fodder we sometimes see, and the vampires themselves are no-nonsense, badass ravening killers who seem like they’d go through the foppish, angst-ridden types from Interview With The Vampire like mincemeat.  The best, or at least most original thing about 30 Days of Night is its devious premise—a remote Alaskan town where the sun doesn’t show for thirty days—that seems so obviously perfect for a vampire flick that it’s a wonder no one ever thought of it before.  The movie itself doesn’t achieve the nerve-wracking tension of something like 28 Days Later—which it is occasionally reminiscent of—but it supplies a healthy helping of suspense, plenty of bloody mayhem to satisfy hardcore gore fans, and most importantly, keeps the audience riveted from start to finish. 

Barrow, Alaska: a remote town north of the Arctic Circle where the sun sets for a month at a time.  Most of the residents migrate south, unwilling to endure the constant darkness, before the sunset, leaving a small community of one-hundred-and-fifty-two people watched over by Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and including his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George).  But Eben begins to realize something is going on. Cell phones go missing.  Power goes off.  The town’s lone helicopter is mysteriously damaged beyond repair.  Sled dogs are found brutally slaughtered.  A creepy stranger (Ben Foster) wanders into town as a herald of doom (“that cold ain’t the weather, it’s death approaching’”).  But the real terror is on its way. As the sun prepares to set on Barrow for thirty days, a pack of bloodthirsty vampires led by Marlow (Danny Huston) is poised to descend on the town and unleash an orgy of murder and carnage.  At first the townspeople attempt to fight back, but once they realize what they’re up against, their fight becomes a struggle for survival, hiding out and trying to last the thirty days until the sunlight returns.

Mood and tension are important to 30 Days of Night, and director David Slade does the best job developing them during the opening twenty minutes or so before the attack comes.  The early scenes are permeated with a growing sense that something ominous is on its way, with even a picturesque view of the last sunset clouded with a feel of impending doom.  Once the attack comes, it is swift, coordinated, and unflinchingly brutal, as Marlow and his band descend on the town without warning, mercy, or pity, unleashing a free-for-all bloodbath of slaughter and mayhem and nearly wiping out the one-hundred-and-fifty-two inhabitants with startling speed, leaving only a small band of survivors including Eben, Stella, Eben’s brother (Mark Rendall) and a crusty loner (Mark Boone Junior), among others, hiding like rats in attics and abandoned stores as the vampires ransack the town, eternally searching for more prey to feed their seemingly unquenchable thirst.  The vampires themselves aren’t developed in much depth or detail; we never learn much of anything about who they are or where they came from, but it’s notable that 30 Days’ bloodsuckers have no time for the “woe is me, trapped as tortured soul for all eternity” angst of characters like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview With The Vampire, nor do they have the elegance or sophistication of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee.  The vampires here are feral, animalistic predators, savage, soulless monsters desiring only to slaughter and kill, bearing closer resemblance to the infected in 28 Days Later than the likes of Lestat.  Only Marlow displays a measure of intelligence and authority (Huston is the only vampire actor with dialogue, all but two words of which is spoken in a made-up, subtitled language that sounds like a garbled transmission played backwards), but he’s as much of a savage brute as those he leads.  All in all, the vampires in 30 Days behave more like a pack of wild ravenous animals than anything recognizably human.  Some Anne Rice aficionados might be disappointed; others will find it refreshing to find vampires who are truly brutal, cold-blooded killers who don’t pretend to be anything else.  Like most vampire movies, it puts its own variation on vampire lore.  The vampires here clearly require no invitation to invade the homes of their victims, and it’s up in the air whether wooden stakes, garlic, or holy water would have an effect, because they’re never used.  The only clear means of eliminating the vampires in 30 Days are chopping off their heads (or blowing them off with a shotgun), and exposing them to light (Eben sets a clever trap for one of them involving an ultraviolet lamp).  This of course means an axe sees plenty of action, and the lopping off the heads of the undead left and right provides a sizable chunk of the movie’s violence.

Josh Hartnett is often lambasted for his acting ability (or lack thereof), but for Sheriff Eben Oleson, he fits the bill.  This isn’t the stuff of great performances, but Hartnett is effective.  Ditto for Melissa George, who convincingly balances fear and toughness and solidly supports her male co-star.  Ben Foster, continuing his string of creepy weirdoes started with Hostage and last month’s 3:10 To Yuma, makes an impression in the opening twenty minutes or so, enough to wish he’d had more screentime.  Danny Huston’s looming height, black-eyed stare, and portentous subtitled proclamations (“there is no hope, only hunger and pain”) make him an intimidating adversary, even if his personality is mostly a black hole (he gets a couple nice touches, like using a victim’s blood to slick back his hair).  His minions, bloody-mouthed beasts with distorted faces who communicate only with shrieks and howls, are even more grotesque than he is.  The supporting actors, including Mark Rendall as Eben’s younger brothers and Mark Boone Junior (who might be best-known for being dangled upside down off a rooftop as the dirty cop in Batman Begins) are effective.

Much has been made of the violence, perhaps too much. Make no mistake, 30 Days of Night is a gleefully gory, bloody film, but not substantially worse than the likes of the Alien series or 28 Days Later.  Actually, speaking of 28 Days Later, which was a more groundbreaking and hard-hitting film than this, one gets the feeling that 30 Days at times borrows a page or two from the earlier chiller, particularly in the similarities between the appearances and behavior of the rampaging pack of vampires and the hordes of infected, and a few 28 Days Later-esque scenes where someone is forced to kill a friend who’s in the midst of transforming into the undead.  It’s not to the point where 30 Days of Night seems like a 28 Days Later rip-off, but it’s possible to see that 28 Days Later has had an influence both on this film and the zombie/vampire genre in general.  Despite what the creepy previews would have you believe, 30 Days of Night actually concentrates more on the cat-and-mouse game that develops pitting Eben and the handful of survivors against Marlow and his cohorts than straightforward horror, although it isn’t lacking in that either.  The most cringe-inducing scene features a graphic decapitation, while the most disturbing involves our band’s encounter with an “infected” young girl.  Along the way there are a few riveting scenes, the tension and suspense of the opening stages of the infiltration and attack, Eben and Stella’s failed attempt to get out of town, an overheard lingering aerial shot of the town, showing the wide scale of the vampires’ slaughter, a confrontation between a tractor and a lot of vampires, and a climactic mano-a-mano.  There are flaws, to be sure—the movie overall isn’t as tension-packed as it could have been or might be expected to be, and the passing of the thirty days isn’t conveyed particularly effectively (it doesn’t seem like much time has passed before a subtitle informs us it is “Day 7” or “Day 18”), but more works here than doesn’t work.  The film is well-crafted, the vampires are a legitimate menace, the characters might not be particularly memorable but they’re effective enough to be worth following, and the ending delivers a genuine dose of poignancy.  30 Days of Night is far from the be-all-end-all vampire movie, but it provides enough blood, guts, action, and bloodsuckers to satisfy most fans of the genre.

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