30 Days Of Night
There are a lot of things that may go through your mind when watching a vampire flick. Sure there are pluses in being one. That whole immortality thing is a nice upside. As for the drinking of blood thing, all major cities have blood banks, and with the bad economy, it doesn’t cost too much to bribe a night guard. The big downside of being a vampire is that whole bursting into flames when exposed to sunlight. That can be a major deal breaker. Depending on the season a vampire only has a few hours to roam about, not much when you think of it. Just as the night starts to become interesting, it is almost sunrise, and you got to rush back to your old coffin. One solution presented in the latest film by David Slade ’30 Days of Night’. The premise is brilliantly simple. The town of Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost city in the United States. It is above the Arctic circle and therefore as winter approaches there is a period of about a month where the sun fails to rise over the horizon. This makes it the perfect getaway location for the vampire. The real Barrow, the time of the long night, is over double the thirty days mentioned in the film’s title. Then again if you are that much of a stickler for facts you shouldn’t be watching a vampire flick anyway.
I did remember a short story with a similar theme many years ago. Instead of a small American town, it was set in a Siberian prison camp in the far north. The same basic deal is at play here. Take a small group of people and isolate them from the outside world. This is just a variation on the haunted house or in a brilliant more modern take on it ‘Alien’ where the ultimate isolation was used. Having the victims, or from the vampire’s point of view brunch, isolated by extreme cold, brutal weather and endless night is a perfect solution for the main problem of a horror film. There is no way for them to leave; every means of egress blocked. Now even with a great premise, a horror flick can fall flat without follow through. This movie manages to keep the action going throughout. There are faults in the flick that prevent it from fully achieving its potential, but for the most part, it does what a film of this genre has to do, provide chills, thrills, and scares.
One thing that helps the film get close to its intention is they have done away with the sensitive vampire. With some many vampires now getting in touch with their feelings vampire flicks and TV shows are becoming less a thing of terror and more like an episode of Dr. Phil. These kinder, gentler vampires don’t seem to be the type to make the journey up north. The ones that attack this little town are monsters and glad of it. Think of this as a yearly get away or annual hunting trip with friends. They leave the touchy-feely vampires in town and go off to discover their real inner monster. This script has left behind the reasonable vamp and filled the town with bloodthirsty killers. They are not sexy or suave; they are out to suck you dry, period. This also allows the humans in the flick to be completely in survival mode. In a horror film, all that should matter is blind terror and staying alive. This film reduces the plot to a matter of ‘us or them.'
As the film opens most of the people in Barrow are preparing to leave town to avoid the annular month-long night. While they are making their getaway, a stranger (Ben Foster) leaves a larger ship to row across the steel-gray water towards town. Once there he gets right to work. He either steals or outright destroys all the cell phones. He then slaughters the sled dogs and wrecks the town’s only helicopter. Methodically the stranger is making sure whoever remains in Barrow has no way out. These crimes come to the attention of the local sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), and he begins his investigation. He can’t seem to get a handle on what is going on but he does discover that is soon to be ex-wife, Stella (Melissa George), who has moved away was back for a visit and has missed the last plane out of town. She is stuck win Barrow for the duration. With Stella’s aid, Eben captures the Stranger and locks him up. While in the jail Eben is joined by Stella, her younger brother Jake (Mark Rendall) and their grandmother. From his cell, the stranger taunts the locals informing them that death is on its way for them. Just then the whole town goes dark. A team of vampires has gotten to the power and phone companies completing the town’s isolation. When Eben goes to look into the blackout, he finds the head of the man working there severed and on a pole. Stella joins Eben in searching the town for whomever, or whatever is responsible. It must have seemed like a good idea to bring your estranged wife along when you are looking for something that can rip heads off. Best case is you might avoid the upcoming alimony.
Now that the town is dark and cut off it is time for the vampires to make their move finally. They are lead by an ancient among then, Marlow (Danny Huston). He speaks some long dead language and is answered by the feral shrieks of his followers. As they get ready to go out and start the feast, Marlow admonishes them to always remove the heads after drinking up. This is to make sure that none of the town folk is turned into vampires themselves. With such a limited number of appetizers around you don’t want to have to share with newcomers. It looks gloomy for the people in the town. The vampires are having an all you can eat buffet while Eben and a small band try their best to hide. They are ultimately trapped by the local snow plow man, Beau Brower (Mark Boone, Jr.) rescues them, and the survivors hide in the attic of an old, out of the way attic.
This is the sophomore opus for director David Slade, and he is certainly getting a name for horror with a twist. His previous movie, ‘Hard Candy’ dealt with a 14-year-old girl, a pedophile, scalpel and a how-to video on castration. While this film is not quite as well constructed as it predecessor, it does hold together very well. There is a gap of several days in the action. This is a two-edged sword for the story. While the time compression does help to keep the tension going and allow for a more efficient telling, it does leave open some potentially good scenes in their efforts to survive. This is a problem in general here. There are gaps in the continuity that gives a jumpy feel to the flick. By having the vampires so feral, it does place all the emotional impact on the humans. The story of Eben and Stella being pushed together what appears to be a rather messy split gives the right human edge to the tale.
The cast is well done. (Danny Huston is sufficiently spooky as the head bloodsucker. He oozes power and control over his minions. Josh Hartnett has been carving out a nice niche in the action hero business. He has the rugged looks for the ladies and the action stunts to keep the guys interested. Getting a chance to show more than a head full of blonde hair and the great figure is Melissa George. She gets an opportunity to show that she can handle a role with emotional content.
This film is released on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment with their typical technical excellences. There are regular DVD and Blu-ray versions out there both with 2.40:1 video and Dolby 5.1 audio. The film is a solid ‘R’ rated horror flick that is perfect for a late night fright fest with friends.
Posted 03/03/08 06/06/2017