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Movie Review: 30 Days of Night

30 Days of Night (Sony)
Directed by David Slade
Written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, and Brian Nelson 

From January till the end of September it seemed like every couple of weeks we were given a wide release horror film. And then we had to wait till the third week of October, a month where horror film releases make perfect sense, to get our first one. Even Halloween got released in August. What the hell is up with that?

30 Days of Night is an adaptation of a graphic novel from 2002 written by Steve Niles. I have never read it, and until I started reading about this film, the Doc had never heard of Mr. Niles. So, I come at this from a true outsider’s perspective; I don’t know what’s different or the same, so fans of the comic be warned, you might have a completely different opinion than the Doc. Hell, you might have one either way. You’re all free thinkers I hope.

The small Alaskan town of Barrow is about to enter its month of darkness, hence the ingenious title. The movie opens up with some citizens leaving for the sunlight of other states, and others closing up their shops and getting prepared for the upcoming blackout. Unfortunately for the ones that are staying, a group of vampires have decided to make a claim on the town for the next thirty days. With no sunlight, it’s a 24/7 buffet for our hungry undead.

The town’s sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) starts noticing some strange signs of vandalism around the town which includes all modes of transportation being destroyed. Even a team of sled dogs gets the axe, which as a loving Husky owner, I was fairly disturbed from the get-go. Olsen also has to deal with the return of his wife, Stella (Melissa George), who he has been separated from for quite awhile. She is there for a routine statewide fire inspection, and after a car accident that causes her to miss the flight back to Anchorage, Stella gets to stick around for the mayhem.

The Doc was really digging the first thirty minutes of the film, with the exception of the Siberian Husky slaughter. The buildup of all the horrors to come is done exceptionally well. Director David Slade showed us last year with the excellent Hard Candy he can build some suspense as well as anyone, and his affect is no different here. The seclusion of the small town gave the Doc the creeps, and made me almost wish that I had no idea Vampires were about to attack the town.

And after the fairly simple setup and execution of Hard Candy, I had no idea how much of a visual genius Slade was. This movie is one of the best-looking horror films I have ever seen. The darkness is contrasted perfectly with what little light they have once the vampires cut off all the power to the town. I never had a problem seeing what was going on; Peter Hyams (The Relic) should take some notes on how to correctly light a horror film.

However, after all that great build-up, I became perplexed at how bored I got once the vampires started killing off the citizens. This should be where the film really kicks into high gear and never lets up until the finish, but instead, the story just kind of stalls for the next hour or so. We get more beheadings than I think I’ve ever seen in one film, and eventually they become tiresome. There was a nine-year-old kid watching the film with us, and after the first head flew off a character’s neck he said “Fake!” If you can’t please a nine-year-old with heads flying off, then you’ve got some problems.

The great pacing from the first third of the film gets lost just as quickly. The subtitles would show us that seven days have passed, and then ten more, but with the exception of Josh Hartnett growing a finely trimmed “porn-stash,” no one else seemed to look that affected by the lack of food and hygiene control.

Story elements get a tad confusing as well. We learn in a throwaway line that Eben and Stella are separated early on, but throughout the film I couldn’t figure out the affect this had on the situation at hand. One of the guys I saw this with had read the comic, and said they were together in the written version. So, the purpose of changing that for the film was completely lost on the Doc.

Another sequence has Eben saying that it’s snowing now, so they should move to another location. However, there is never anything mentioned before this to let us know that the vampires can’t track them when it’s snowing. I guess we’re supposed to assume that it blinds them, but aren’t these vampires? I would think a little snow would affect the humans more than the vamps. I could buy it if they just threw some sort of explanation in there beforehand.

The vampires are another problem. While they’re pretty cool to look at (They are kind of a cross between those mutated vamps in Blade II and Russian mobsters), they’re not exactly scary. The attacks are a little annoying as well, and this is the one directing snafu that Slade makes when he throws in all of the quick MTV style cuts when they pounce on their victims.

And as much as I wanted to buy Josh Hartnett’s tough guy actions, I just couldn’t. I don’t think it is Hartnett’s fault; he’s played commanding and even creepy roles before in better films. The script makes him so wishy-washy through most of the 2 hour running time, that when he actually does take some action, there are no overlying motivations to make us believe it. The most unfortunate plot twist for Hartnett comes at the climax; I won’t ruin the surprise for those who haven’t read the comic, even though I’m not sure this was the original ending. Even though in theory it’s a pretty cool idea, there are so many things that have to go right for it to work that the plot point kind of self-destructs under its own lack of earlier explanation. The one line of reasoning that Hartnett gives makes the scenario seem even sillier.

This is a very frustrating film because there is a great movie in here somewhere. A few tweaks here and there in the script, and you’ve easily got the best horror film of ’07 if nothing else. There are just too many wasted opportunities involving the self-destruction of the citizens, one guy kills his family to save them from dying by the hands of the creatures, and then turns the gun on himself, but it stalls on him. This would have been an awesome scene to see, but we’re told the story instead.

This is another case of a visual treat with no story to back up its picturesque mastery. I like to refer to it as the Sky Captain of vampire films. Thirty minutes into this, I thought I was going to see the best vampire film to come out in ages. When it was all over, I was left a little underwhelmed and annoyed that there wasn’t a little more meat on the bone.


Sam Loomis

The Projectionist’s review of 30 Days of Night.

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