What we have here is vampires and an abundance of nighttime, and not a whole hell of a lot more. 30 Days Of Night takes place within the upper confines of Alaska. The northernmost town, Barrow, is situated well within the Arctic Circle, and the community suffers a protracted period during winter when sunlight never appears. Based on the Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith graphic novel, 30 Days Of Night begins shortly before last sundown before the town descends into a month-long period of darkness. Let’s just excuse the factual discrepancy that Barrow, Alaska, actually endures over two months of total darkness, because with a vampire flick, “67 Days, Give Or Take, Of Night” just doesn’t sound quite as fashionable. This is a very slick and stylish film, and when it works, it really works. Unfortunately, a weak script, even simpler than the graphic novel itself, eats this film alive.
The film begins while most of Barrow’s 500 or so residents are departing for slightly warmer climates before the long night sets in. Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) helps prepare the 152 stragglers for this normally uneventful stretch of monotony. This season starts out slightly different when Eben, scratching his head, finds a pile of melted cellular phones, after which the town’s sled dogs are brutally slain and the local helicopter is vandalized beyond use. Stella (Melissa George), the fire marshall and estranged wife of Eben, ends up missing the last flight out of town, and all roads leading to the outside world are soon rendered impassible due to near-constant whiteouts. An odd, Renfieldesque character known as The Stranger (a virtually unrecognizable Ben Foster) wanders into town and mutters warnings of a mysterious “they” who are coming. Shortly thereafter, a pack of vampires descend for a lengthy feeding frenzy, and people start dying with an alarming lack of subtlety. Those who survive the initial slaughter gather at the local greasy spoon and plan for action. Any skepticism about the existence of vampires soon fades, as these bloodsuckers quickly prove themselves to be lethal in their speed and strength. Forget guns, garlic, and all the rest — all that the survivors can do to avoid death-by-vampire is to hide out, wait for the sunlight, and occasionally decapitate those bloody bastards. The closest thing that the town of Barrow has to a lethal weapon is Josh Hartnett — boy, are they screwed.
The film’s visuals are fairly impressive, especially since 30 Days Of Night was filmed entirely in New Zealand. The film’s director, David Slade (Hard Candy), used copious amounts of Epsom salts, fluffy white blankets, and an abundance of shredded paper to create a desaturated white landscape. Of particular note is the vampires’ opening massacre, in which most of the town’s residents perish. Slade shoots this scene from above, and as the vampires perform the extermination, the town’s milky, snow-covered streets are illuminated by the rivers of bloodletting, in which the predators’ victims squirm like overturned cockroaches. Quite fittingly, these vampires are nothing at all like Bram Stoker’s Dracula would lead us to expect. These bloodsuckers are definitely not the seductive, romanticized breed wrought by Anne Rice, whose preternatural types drink blood from goblets and run around in tights while they indulge in the thrill of the chase. Fuck that — all these vampires want is blood. Feral and animalistic, the vamps dress as if they’re attending a Eurotrash all-night rave, speak in a guttural, subtitled language, and never wipe the blood from their chins. One female vampire looks a lot like Marilyn Manson, if that tells you anything at all about their level of seductiveness. The vampires’ tall, brooding leader, Marlow (Danny Huston), who reminds me of the lead singer of Fine Young Cannibals, is something of a motivational speaker to his followers. Marlow forbids his clan from turning anyone, lest they have to compete in greater numbers for food. Furthermore, he instructs his clan to leave no survivors, so no one can tell their tale, and humankind can keep on thinking that vampires are merely the stuff of nightmares.
30 Days of Night alternates between graphically brutal horror and prolonged moments of dread, and unfortunately, the film’s pacing is utter crap — the hide-chase-flee sequences quickly become repetitive and almost episodic. Thus, while the film’s exhilarating moments are a strength, these visceral sequences are so exhausting to watch that I found myself struggling not to take a nap while the survivors hide out in an attic for a few weeks. In the final act, the survivor’s actions seem to point towards only the film’s ending, rather than the impending sunlight, and last-minute sacrifices can only be summarized as totally underwhelming. Character development is also exceedingly bare, and other than Eben, his brother, and Stella, the other survivors are fairly nameless. So, we don’t really care when someone dashes into the snow to save his elderly father, and we don’t understand why an undeveloped character gives an emotional speech and asks Eben to kill him when he is bitten by a vampire child. Perhaps if the director hadn’t reduced the citizens’ numbers so quickly, we might have gotten to know a few of the survivors a bit more. This could have spared us the nauseating moments when Eben and Stella realize that they are still madly in love, which is a more hurl-inducing development than any of the flim’s goriest moments.
The focus of 30 Days Of Night undeniably ends up on Huston, who is captivating onscreen in a very different way than Gary Oldman’s Dracula. His Marlow is at some moments quite cruel and mocking before he kills his victims, yet at other times, the character’s intelligence seems to point towards a larger backstory. Poor little Hartnett, for all his ubiquitous squinty-eyed expressiveness, really does make a valiant effort as the town’s sheriff. George, for her part, must have spent more time having her lipstick and eye-shadow reapplied than perfecting her role. In cases where the plot is so simple, a film’s execution simply must be aggressively and thoroughly cool, or it just won’t work. 30 Days Of Night almost delivers the goods, but not quite.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found replenishing her adrenaline supply over at agentbedhead.com.What's Black and White and Red All Over?
Film | October 21, 2007 | Comments ()