Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Kiele Sanchez, Rhys Coiro, Diora Baird, Mia Kirshner, Harold Perrineau
Directed by Ben Ketai
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Back in 2007 director David Slade brought us the tense, violent and visually arresting film adaptation of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night graphic novel. Now, with 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, we have the small-screen sequel heading direct to DVD and Blu-ray, and it, too, is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name.
Picking up one year after the massacre chronicled in the first story, Dark Days sees the widowed Stella Olemaun (now played by Kiele Sanchez, replacing the original’s Melissa George) involved in a cross-country series of lectures as she attempts to reveal the truth about what happened in Barrow, Alaska. Derided from all sides by the public, authorities and vampires alike, she finds it increasingly difficult to make her voice heard.
As we open, however, Stella’s taking a new step: She lights up a rack of high-strength UV lamps in the auditorium, sending a couple of vamps in the audience into a screaming meltdown. It’s a strong and promising beginning to the story, which sticks very well to Niles’ original graphic novel; but it isn’t long before things begin to slide into mediocrity.
After the horrific display at her lecture, Stella is picked up and interrogated by the strange and sickly FBI agent Norris. This particular individual is a “bug eater” – a Renfield style vampire wannabe, who disposes of Stella’s evidence and tells her in no uncertain terms to get her nose out of their business. Upon returning home, Stella meets a group of other humans who have lost loved ones and now hunt vampires in revenge. These three are Paul (Coiro), Amber (Baird) and Todd (Perrineau), and they’re looking to bring Stella into their ranks to hunt down and destroy the vampire queen Lilith (Kirshner), who just happens to be in town – and planning another assault on Barrow.
Dark Days is a pretty action-packed little flick, including some seriously nasty pieces of gore alongside vamps being blasted all to hell (one of the best gags comes early, with a double-pistol obliteration of a vampire’s face). The vampires are almost as vicious as they were the first time around, but there’s something about them here that allows the cheesiness that Slade so masterfully avoided in the first film to start seeping through. Perhaps it’s the stoic look on most of the toothy monsters, or maybe it’s their generic wannabe-Blade-inspired attire (seriously, how many more vampires in leather jackets and sunglasses do we need?). It’s hard to pinpoint, but they just aren’t the powerful, relentless murderers that were so brilliantly painted by the series’ predecessor.
Generally, the cast do a fine job – Sanchez especially, as she handles this evolved version of Stella admirably. There are still moments of the original’s protagonist to be caught, but for the most part this is an all-new, hardened and jaded Stella. “Lost” star Harold Perrineau provides an endearing character but unfortunately isn’t around long enough to be truly appreciated. Diora Baird, barely recognisable after her sex-pot performance in Night of the Demons, is forced to portray an exceptionally annoying character in Amber. She’s a tough-talking, somewhat hippy chick, but when the shit hits the fan and vamps are flooding these wannabe fighters, she freaks out big style. You just can’t wait for her to die. In fact, that’s part of the main problem with Dark Days – these alleged “hunters” must have only been doing so for a matter of days before they caught up with Stella as their skills and resolve are quite seriously lacking. Mia Kirshner, even though she isn’t given much of anything to do, gives a real presence to Lilith – both beautiful and deadly, but the climactic battle between the queen and Stella is laughably truncated and a complete cop-out.
Dark Days isn’t a particularly terrible film, per se, as it does stick relatively well to the graphic novel on which it is based and does feel like it belongs in the same universe as the original film. That necessary feeling of continuation is very much alive, but some shoddily rushed plot points (especially the climax), and ridiculously poor/cliché filmmaking choices (the extended bathroom sex scene is just completely unnecessary), leave it lacking the overwhelming suspense, threat and survival horror style fear of the first in exchange for a somewhat ill-conceived attempt at an action flick, which ultimately sees it stranded firmly in middle-of-the-road territory.
This UK Blu-ray release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sports an impressive 1080p transfer that packs in a huge amount of detail. Some of the best images that director Ketai has formed in this film are to be found in the scenes involving Lilith, and the high-def presentation really makes them look amazing. In terms of sound it’s a hell of a loud flick with plenty of weighty gunfire and screeching vampires engaging the 3D soundstage commendably. It may have benefited from a little more fine-tuning in the audio balance to prevent volume-tweaking syndrome during the movie, but that’s a very minor nitpick in this case.
In terms of special features we get a featurette entitled “Vampires Exist: The Gritty Realism of Dark Days”, an audio commentary with director Ben Tekai and producer J. R. Young, and the Blu-ray exclusive “Graphic Inspirations – Comic to Film”. Both of the featurettes are interesting and engaging, especially the graphic novel comparison, which invites Tekai to discuss some of his visual and plot choices in contrast to what was in the original source material and his reasons for either sticking with what was there or changing it for the film. The commentary runs through a few of the same topics with Ketai elaborating quite often on his visual choices and sacrifices to meet the budget. It’s a worthy listen but isn’t likely to make anyone more appreciative of the film itself.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5