30 Days of Night (2007)
Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Starring Ben Foster, Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston
Directed by David Slade
Vampires are such a common staple in modern horror that a reference to their being is almost obligatory in any definition of what puts a movie in the horror genre. They are as familiar to horror as cream is to coffee; sugar to tea; blood to wine; invariably popping out of their graves to offer another fright time after time in hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies. It's this familiarity that is their greatest bane, however, as it's a sticky wicket to take something familiar and make it frightening. Reinventing such an overexposed monster and molding it into something truly fearsome means either breaking completely new ground, or, perhaps, returning to ground that is quite old, cracked, and forgotten.
30 Days of Night grabs this hoary monster by the throat, pumps it full of the thick rich blood of life, and shoves it out to greet you, eat you, and coat you in glorious mists of red firing from oh-so-many newly exposed arterial sprays.
The yearly seasonal phenomenon of thirty days of night is descending on the small town of Barrow, Alaska. The local Sheriff, Eben (Hartnett), is preparing, along with the rest of the town, to bear through the dark season, while his anti-love interest, Stella Oleson (George), is doing her best to escape the city as well as her beau. Circumstances prevent Stella from getting out before the sun goes down, and meanwhile a filthy and quirky lunatic (played magnificently by Ben Foster) arrives in town to herald its doom. As the dark night descends and begins an entire month of black, other beings soon arrive with the intention of capturing the entire town and feeding on it in a savage and gluttonous frenzy of blood and screams.
The vampires of 30 Days of Night bring new energy to the mythos and they do this in practice by simply being more primitive. Vampires have been long been creatures of romance, seduction, and charisma. This has reached a peak in recent decades arguably powered by the phenomena of Anne Rice and her books on Lestat and his foppish ilk. The vampires of 30 Days of Night are not like Rice’s dandifying charmers, full of introspection, charm, and androgynously limp beauty; instead these are savage broken toothed killers who’ll rip your head off and chuck it at your sister. These are gibbering madmen, full of nothing but the evil urge to kill, maim, and feed. They are so sunken into their dark insanity of being that most of them have seemingly lost the ability to speak and communicate with only so many animalistic screeches, gibbers, and screams.
This type of monster is so out of the mold of the modern take on vampires that it is fair to call them more of a werewolf archetype than a vampire. Vampires, on the whole, are creatures with the power of seduction; while werewolves are monsters of rage. These particular vampires have rage aplenty and are so good at killing that they’ve no need, at all, to seduce anything. They are filthy, ugly things, and they don’t care if you like them; they only care if you’re dead.
That’s not to say the monsters are completely lacking in charisma. The lead vampire, Marlowe (Huston), one of the few beasts who seems to have retained the power of speech (or, alternatively, one of the few who still bothers to speak), seems to resonate with an ugly charismatic power and his voice and presence carries a strange authority that could freeze a room full of bikers. This is a charisma indebted upon the simple raw power of great threat; a charm that extends from his intimidating ability to kill with little effort. He’s not pretty to look at, but you will still want to stop and listen to what he has to say, and you’ll do so politely, without interruption.
This film is David Slade’s second feature length venture, the first being the controversial, and excellent, Hard Candy. Hard Candy was a deadly serious affair that kept the tension high and any relieving joviality low, and his new film shows he still isn’t shy about keeping the pressure on. In 30 Days of Night, Slade has proven he has a knack for tense contextual horror; those awful situations that manage to creep right under your skin. The townsfolk’s fight to survive is a horrendous and passionate battle. There's one shot in particular that is simply stunning; a bird’s eye view of a frozen street, panning slowly over the breadth of nearly the entire town, capturing a long and frenzied battle between the vampires and their victims. This shot goes on and on and does so much to impress the impact and scale of the devastation and horror faced by the small Alaskan town.
30 Days of Night is comparable in multiple ways to John Carpenter’s The Thing. There is the obvious connection in that the protagonists are put under siege in a frozen arctic environment, cut off from the protecting grace of civilization. They are also fighting a foe they know little about, for both films do not waste time with unnecessary exposition or back story. The citizens of Barrow know next to nothing about the vampires that descend upon them and you will know only what they know. Lastly, the high level of tension with little comedic relief is comparable in that both films are rather unforgiving in the amount of stress they exude. There are a scant handful of moments after the monsters arrive in 30 Days of Night that can give some black humor, but much of it is bloody serious business.
30 Days of Night is based on a graphic novel of the same name, and for all appearances looks like it has captured the soul of the work perfectly to film. This is a top notch horror film that brings energy and power back to the vampire mythos and is likely to be one of the best horror films of 2007. Get to it, see it, and enjoy it.
5 out of 5
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