Every time I watch a vampire movie and see the hero in a desperate situation, hopelessly trapped and about to be devoured, something in the back of my mind always says, "The sun's gonna rise." It's a borderline cop-out ending that for me has dampened many a film. But what happens if the sun never rises? What would the hunted characters do without that great vampiric trump card? Such is the terrifying premise behind 30 Days of Night, a comic book-turned-movie that breathes new life into the centuries-old vampire mythology.
The film takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in North America, where each winter brings a 30-day period during which the sun never rises. (In real life, it's more like 60 days, but that would make for a heck of a long movie.) It's the perfect hunting ground for vampires, and conveniently enough, a group of them sail in on a freighter during the last day of sunlight.
Meanwhile, the townsfolk who can't hack the annual depressing darkness (during which time alcohol isn't sold) are packing up and leaving, lowering the town's population to just over 100. Staying put, though, is Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), who begins to discover disturbances around town: satellite phones are stolen and burned, and sled dogs are killed. In a town of 100 people, it's not hard to identify the culprit: a raggedy, nameless stranger (Ben Foster) who's been cutting off all modes of communication and escape. It turns out that he's a vampire "familiar," a human cooperating with the undead in order to prepare for the slaughter to come.
He's intentionally vague, though, when questioned by Eben, muttering only that "They're coming." At that point, all hell breaks loose, as the sun sets and the night crawlers invade. Eben and the few survivors of the attack -- including his little brother Jake (Mark Rendall) and estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) -- take refuge in an attic and must find a way to last through "30 days of night."
The End Product
The movie succeeds largely due to the vamps themselves. Any horror fan worth his salt knows that a movie is only as scary as its villain, and these baddies are about as intimidating as vampires get. They're animalistic, with dark eyes that seem pulled upwards towards their pointy ears. They travel in hierarchal packs like wolves and, reminiscent of the mutant "reapers" in Blade II, they are single-minded in their desire to feed. These aren't the suave, Dracula types who coerce you into becoming their victim; they don't even speak your language. They just feed and feed some more, using mouths made up entirely of fangs.
It's a good thing the vampires are so enthralling, because the humans lack depth. The only real subplot, Eben and Stella's marital shakiness, is scantily developed, although that leaves all the more time for neck-chomping mayhem. When the good guys do get killed, it's not a terribly emotional affair, since we don't feel attached to their thinly drawn characters, not to mention their penchant for boneheaded moves that make you question whether they want to get eaten.
That said, it's a horror movie, not a period drama, and 30 Days delivers the horrific goods. The violence is grisly and the direction, courtesy of David Slade, is visceral and intense. You feel as if you're in the middle of a war zone when the vampires attack, as the film launches into a series of well-executed action set pieces culminating in an overhead shot that shows off the extent of the town-wide carnage. Plus, as a horror fan, you have to appreciate a film with the guts to decapitate an eight-year-old girl. 30 Days of Night isn't just one of the best comic book adaptations in recent memory, it's also one of the best vampire films to hit the silver screen in quite some time.
- Acting: B- (Hartnett is typically underwhelming.)
- Direction: A (Fierce and involving.)
- Script: B- (Shallow characters and some questionable decisions.)
- Gore / Effects: A (Brutal and bloody.)
- Overall: B+ (A bold new chapter in vampire lore.)
30 Days of Night is directed by David Slade and is rated R for strong horror violence and language.