30 Days Of Night Review
It’s been a long time coming, but at last the vampire film gets its bite back! For too long vampires on the big screen have been sidelined into being good looking charmers who just happen to bite a neck or two when the mood takes them. If we go back to the beginning, Nosferatu was far from pretty. As envisioned by F W Murnau (and later by Werner Herzog) the Prince of Darkness was far from regal. Almost rodent like in appearance he skulked in the shadows, cursed never to die he lived like a hermit only emerging to feed on the blood of unsuspecting victims. Anne Rice started putting nails in his coffin when her vampires were portrayed as dashing playboys living the high life in country piles, more bored than cursed. After Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt took the film roles it seemed that cursed monsters were out and dashing fops were in. Of course there were always people willing to buck the trend, most notably Kathryn Bigelow, whose family of gypsy vampires in Near Dark brought the genre up to date in terrifying fashion, and The Forsaken, an underrated and little seen film about modern day vampires picking off drivers on America's deserted highways.
30 Days Of Night sinks its teeth into the genre in stunning and inventive ways. The Alaskan town of Barrow is plunged into darkness for 30 days and nights every year when the sun never rises. The sensible residents leave for more enlightened locales but a hardy few always stay to brave out the winter and keep the town running. This year, however, something other than snow and frost is arriving with the darkness. First signs that something is wrong happen early on; someone has destroyed all the satellite phones and killed all the town's huskies, and a stranger arrives in town with tales of the terror to come. Treated as a lunatic, he is thrown into jail for the night while the townsfolk go about their business unaware of the terror that is approaching. Soon after, the town is invaded by a bunch of marauding vampires that systematically goes about tearing people limb from limb and generally causing the kind of havoc that cinematic vampires have failed to do for quite some time. A handful of survivors including the Sheriff, Josh Hartnett, and his ex wife, Melissa George, hole up in an attic and hope to make it through to daylight.
Director David Slade proved he was a talent to watch with his debut Hard Candy and with his sophomore effort he shows that the praise heaped on him was well and truly justified. The opening scenes are filled with foreboding that genuinely sends a shiver down the spine. As the stranger entering the town to warn them of what’s to come Ben Foster is a wonderfully slimy modern day Renfield, and adding this to his off the wall turns in Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma he is cornering the market in manic outsiders. Hartnett and George put in good, if a little anaemic, performances but when most of your time is spent running from bloodsucking monsters it must be hard to develop a multi layered character.
Where the film really scores is with the villains of the piece. These vampires are dirty, vicious monsters that are here for one thing only; to kill as many people as possible. Looking more like an 80’s Goth group than the romantic vision of vampires they sport long coats and white shirts which are caked in dirt and dried blood, and speak in their own guttural language that is subtitled on screen. A brave move to put an actor of Danny Huston’s calibre in your film and not have him speak, but it’s pulled off with style. Huston heads up the pack of homicidal monsters and with his cropped hair, pale skin and teeth more like those of a shark than a vampire he commands the screen and steals the film from under the noses of the two glamorous leads.
Slade puts in some awesome set pieces which are as good as anything you will see in a genre film this year. The camera soars high above the streets as the vampires attack in small groups, blood splattering across the snow, and we witness it all like tourists on some bizarre helicopter ride. A woman walks, weeping, through the snowy streets while Hartnett and co watch on helpless, torn between trying to help and risking capture. It also includes one of the best decapitation scenes you are likely to see, proving that a single blow with an axe just won’t cut it.
Of course there are faults, but forgivable ones. The timeline gets a little blurry at times. The story skips forward days at a time with no real indication, you’re thinking that one night hasn’t passed and suddenly a caption pops up saying Day 19. The whole thing would have worked just as well told over the course of 24 hours although that would have ruined the entire premise of having to wait 30 days till dawn. The ending is also somewhat of a let down, but by the time you reach that point the sheer exhilaration of what has gone before will carry you through.
All in all Slade has created one of the best horror films of the last ten years, imagine Near Dark crossed with The Thing; bloody, violent, slick and visceral this is one horror that will stand the test of time.