30 Days of Night
Director : David Slade
Screenplay : Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson (based on the comic books by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : 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), Megan Franich (Iris), Joel Tobeck (Doug Hertz), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Lucy Ikos), Nathaniel Lees (Carter Davies)
No doubt, 30 Days of Night, which is based on an acclaimed three-issue comic book series by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, has a great premise: a hoard of bloodthirsty vampires descend on a tiny town where the sun doesn't rise for a month. The story takes place in Barrow, Alaska, which happens to be the northernmost town in the United States. When the film opens, most of the town is preparing to leave to spend the next month where the sun does shine, leaving about 150 people who are prepared to endure 30 days of bitter cold and darkness.
Among those hanging back are Ebsen Oleson (Josh Hartnett), the town's sheriff, his teenage brother Jake (Mark Rendall), and his deputy Billy (Manu Bennett). Also staying behind, although not intentionally, is Ebsen's estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), a fire marshal who didn't quite make it to the airport before it was shut down for the month. Bummer, because very bad things to start to happen almost immediately, including the slaughter of all the town's sled dogs and the manager of the town's power plant. Then a greasy stranger (Ben Foster) shows up at the local diner, acting belligerent and making dire warnings about what's going to happen when “they” arrive.
“They” turn out to be a pack of ravenous vampires who look like slightly deranged Eastern European loatharios with mouths full of spiny, razor-sharp teeth. Led by Marlow (Danny Huston), they take advantage of the perpetual darkness to attack the town, launching an all-out assault on anyone and everyone that director David Slade presents in a spine-tingling extreme long shot that gives one the impression of an apocalypse. A few hearty souls survive, including Ebsen and his family members, and they hole up in an attic and try to figure out how to last for 29 more days and nights with the vampires prowling outside.
And herein lies one the film's problems, which derives directly from the source comic: The vampires do all their killing right away, which leaves them with little or nothing to do for the better part of a month except stand around caked with blood beards. Granted, the vicious attack on the town creates some memorably horrific images, but one could imagine a better, more suspenseful movie in which the vampires killed the townspeople off more slowly, rather than all at once (it also doesn't seem to make much sense because, after all, how much blood can they drink at one time?). Instead, we are left with a half-dozen survivors who spend most of their time hiding, occasionally having to venture out into the now quiet streets for supplies or to rescue one of their own who couldn't stand hiding any longer.
30 Days of Night provides some good setpieces, and cinematographer Jo Willems (who also worked on Slade's Hard Candy) gives the images a dark, inky tone that makes them feel like they were ripped directly from the pages of the comic. The story presents an inherently fascinating visual palette, with the blackness of perpetual night reminding us of the horrors of that which cannot be seen while the bright white snow, rendered gray in the darkness, is the perfect canvas for the massive blood splatters that make it impossible to forget the victims even after their bodies disappear. The vampires are also strikingly effective monsters, stripped bare of any romantic trappings and presented as little more than hungry beasts who differ from animals only to the extent that they seem to relish the fear they strike in their victims (they also speak in a throaty, guttural language that sounds thousands of years old). The isolated, unique nature of the town's plight keeps the film from tapping directly into universal fears, but it will certainly make you grateful to see the sun rise.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2007 Sony Pictures