Jaq's Review: 30 Days of Night - Satisfying a Certain Hunger
by Jaq Greenspon
October 29, 2007
What can I say? I like monster movies! I like films with evil, scary things going bump in the night. I like films that cause girls to grab me, terrified, in the darkness. So let me start by saying the new vampire film 30 Days of Night delivers those things in spades. Sure, it has some problems, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and today, I find that a rare thing indeed.
The plot, based on the Dark Horse graphic novel by Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles (who also co-wrote the screenplay), offers a wonderfully original concept and one which should have been thought of years ago. The vampires attack the far northern town of Barrow, Alaska, well above the Arctic Circle, where when the sun goes down for winter, it stays down for a full month. This gives the monsters plenty of time to hunt down their prey. And hunt they do. In the first few days these vampires, led by the beautifully dark-eyed Marlow (Danny Huston), take out most of the town, leaving only a handful of survivors. And, because they can, they do it in full view of God and the camera.
In director David Slade's sophomore feature effort, he wastes little time hiding the creatures of the night. The first two or three attacks are done with lightening speed, then once that's been established, Slade begins to take his time, letting the vampires become the calculating killing machines we know they can be. They hunt with precision, strength, speed and, most impressively, cooperation. They work as a pack. This is not the revisionist suave monster of Tod Browning's Dracula, the debonair, sexy killer with cape and widow's peak. No, this is a return to the Nosferatu, the monster representing the animalistic lust and blood passion which filled mythology until Bela Legosi stepped out of his coffin. It's a credit to writers Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson that they can combine this ferocity with a vampiric philosophy (told in subtitles since the vampires don't speak English) which allow us, as viewers, a glimpse into the inner psyche of the monster's motivation.
Oddly enough, though, this competence in hunting is also one of the films major flaws. They are so efficient you are left wondering why it takes so long for the vampires to find the survivors. There are huge gaps in the story line, filled by screen text explaining "Day 7" and then we jump a week and two weeks until we somehow arrive at "Day 27." We're never given a satisfactory explanation for the survival of the band of misfits and reunited lovers. And even if we were tossed that particular bon mot, there are other pockets of survivors (one in particular) whose very existence threatens to push our suspension of disbelief well over the edge.
The end, though, no matter how we got there, takes another big risk. The sheriff of this little town, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, who really can, sort of, act), who has been the driving force in keeping the survivors alive (as the small town sheriff must always do in these situations) makes the ultimate sacrifice (again, a slight cliché, but done with such aplomb you forgive the act in deference to the nature of the act).
All in all, this is the kind of film which pulls no punches in its depiction of violence, is willing to hack a small child to bits to make its point and uses creative filmmaking to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Perfect for a perennial Halloween treat.