REVIEW: 30 Days of Night [2007]

“Where’s my phone?”

Here is the next chapter in the graphic novels cum film movement that has been taking over the industry. The ingredients seem pretty foolproof: a revisionist vampire tale screenwritten by the novel’s authors, a setting without the sun for thirty days, a hard-r rating, a good cast, and visionary music video director David Slade fresh off his debut feature Hard Candy. 30 Days of Night is a brutal look into a world where the monsters reign supreme with little in their way to slow them down. With stunning cinematography, a beautiful washed out/dark cool color palette, realistic gore with unflinching detail, and a dark empty void of happiness, this one looked like a winner all the way. That is, until the ending. It is a shame that a story as hardcore as this one would take the path it does at the conclusion. Something a bit more tongue-in-cheek or satirical could have easily gotten away with it, but this one deserved to be allowed to run its course of brutality without a convenient finish putting a bittersweet smile on our faces before the lights turned back on, releasing us from the hold of Alaska’s darkest moments.

I can’t say anything bad about the directing. Slade has shown again that style can add a lot to a visionary tale such as this. He is given more room to move as opposed to the two leads, one venue he had for the brilliant Hard Candy, but still closed in enough to be able to create an aesthetic that didn’t need to change. The entire film takes place in the town of Barrow, amongst the houses, stores, and streets with the everyone knows everyone cast of locals. The Stranger who treks into town cuts them off from civilization and keeps the director trapped inside as well to find inventive places to shoot. Complete with jerky, frame missing attack scenes, Slade does not disappoint when it comes to eye candy. Close-ups abound and his ability to keep the camera on the casualties while they are chalked up is a bold breath of fresh air. Very few moments are actual scary jolts. This film’s true fear creator is in the unabashed view of all the carnage at work.

Staying on course, visually speaking, you have never seen vampires depicted quite like this. Their faces are distorted and smooth without blemishes. I have not read the books, so I don’t know how much these creatures are manifestations of the artwork, but I couldn’t help see the similarities to the beasties in videos by music group Aphex Twin. While the beings I’m thinking of were in the promos by Chris Cunningham, Slade too directed some of the band’s work. Not only were the facial structures otherworldly—very fallen angel—but the blank stares and open mouths they possessed showed a detached side to them as they were only out for blood. This is a dying race not attempting to expand their legions, but instead to just survive. I loved the one bald creature with blood on its face throughout the film. He was so memorable because the blood almost created a five-o’clock shadow on his face.

Credit all involved, and the actor himself, for getting Danny Huston into this film. He is amazing as the lead vampire Marlow. I thought the foreign language was a stroke of genius, but it is his mannerisms that really allow the part to succeed. The mouth breathing is foreboding and creepy, dried blood keeps adding upon his face, and his eyes are made up of a continuous blank stare. Someone as accomplished as he is in supporting roles should be commended for taking a role such as this and performing it seriously. This is no Bela Lugosi, as one character says, this is a malicious being out for survival amongst a race that he knows is inferior to his own.

As for the other actors, it is a pretty good job across the board. Josh Hartnett is surprisingly competent. I attribute that to the fact that he is mostly shown with a stoic, contemplative face. If there is one thing he does well, that is it. It’s usually when he smiles and tries to be mister cool that he falters, but thankfully he never really gets that chance here. Ben Foster shows again that no one can do what he does…no one, and Melissa George shows she is an interesting actress whom I have not been able to see yet. Not quite sure if I liked her completely, but she didn’t do anything to make me think I shouldn’t have. Also, it’s a pleasure to see Mark Boone Junior take on a role that lasts. Too many only have like five minutes of screentime (Batman Begins) and he is better than that.

Again, though, the ending just left me cold. Sure what happens as a result stays true to the event, it is just the event itself that made me cringe. Harnett’s sheriff must make a decision before his whole town and all he cares about goes up in flames. Up until that point, the movie had been an edge of your seat thrill ride where it seemed that no one was too important to die. I was even starting to smile that I might be getting a fully tragic end devoid of survivors. Unfortunately, the sheriff makes a decision so out of left field that it elicited more chuckles than poignant tears as a more thought out sequence might have. It doesn’t totally derail an otherwise solid genre flick, but it does leave just the right amount of bile in your throat to sully what comes before it with a faint bad taste.

30 Days of Night 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] When the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, is invaded by a group of bloodthirsty vampires, it’s up to Sherriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, right), his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George, left), and an ever-shrinking group of survivors to do anything and everything they can to last until daylight in Columbia Pictures’ 30 Days of Night. Photo credit: Kirsty Griffin
[2] When the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, is invaded by a group of bloodthirsty vampires – including their leader, Marlow (Danny Huston, pictured) – it’s up to an evershrinking group of survivors to do anything and everything they can to last until daylight in Columbia Pictures’ 30 Days of Night. Photo credit: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures


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