Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Josh Jartnett, Melissa George, Manu Bennett, Danny Huston
Rated: Rated R for strong horror violence and language.
Parental Notes: This is not a movie for children. It features torture, brutal violence, and loads of scary, scary vampires.
“30 Days Of Night” is an idea which has great potential but mediocre execution, much like the plan of its villains. They are a group of vampires who have come up with the crafty idea of taking over a town so far north that it spends a month each winter without any sun at all. Good idea, but the vampires are greedy and sloppy, and frankly get better than they deserve out of the ending.
The film begins shortly before the final sunset for the month. Some townsfolk who can’t stand the long dark are leaving, and many homes in town are boarded up. Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, “Resurrecting the Champ”) and his deputy, Billy (Manu Bennett, “The Condemned”) are looking into a strange series of crimes — a pile of burned satellite phones, a vandalized helicopter, and a pack of murdered sled dogs. They find a strange loner in town (Ben Foster, “3:10 to Yuma”) who raves about “them” being on the way. He seems violent, so they lock him up. Eben’s estranged wife Stella (Melissa George, “The Amityville Horror”) is also in town, as she missed the last flight out. There’s no other way out of town, as Barrow is surrounded by 80 miles of roadless wilderness, and apparently no airplanes can land when it’s dark out.
Pretty soon the sun is down and people start turning up dead. Screams and gunshots are heard. The cell tower goes silent, and the power to the town is cut off. Before long, the townsfolk discover that whatever is after them isn’t slowed down by bullets, and Eben’s teenage brother suggests vampires. That’s confirmed once Eben finds a survivor of an attack, complete with pointy teeth and a refusal to go down ’til his head is chopped off. Eben and Stella lead a small group of survivors into hiding to try and wait out the night.
The broad strokes of “30 Days of Night” are solid. The setting is convincingly created (aside from a few shots where there really ought to be steam coming out of the actors mouths), he special effects are gruesomely realistic, and the acting is more competent than the material really calls for. The pacing is good, too, starting out with a bit of tension building before leading up to a cat-and-mouse hunt punctuated by horrible violence.
Where the film starts to fall apart for your humble reviewer is in the details. The vampires are suitably frightening in appearance, with long, claw-like fingernails, odd facial features, and mouths full of sharp teeth, but they have a tendency to shriek like ring-wraiths at seemingly random moments, which is more comedic than terrifying. They also are thoroughly wasteful, spraying most of their prey’s blood everywhere (even using it as grooming material) rather than consuming it and killing off the vast majority of the townsfolk immediately rather than rationing them. There are wide jumps in time, from Day 7 to Day 18 to Day 28 with little clue as to what has happened in between, and the final big fight against the vampires takes place less than a day before the sun comes up again. Why our heroes couldn’t just hole up in the virtually impregnable building they find on the edge of town and wait for the sun to come up is not at all clear.
In terms of gut-churning, tense horror, “30 Days of Night” provides that in spades (though occasionally broken by unintentionally hilarious moments like the vampires’ melodramatic shrieking). The monsters take pleasure in tormenting their victims, and there is plenty of screaming and spraying of arterial blood. When our band of survivors is in hiding, there is the constant tension of wondering when they will be found. In that regard, the film provides well, and if you are a horror buff who’s more forgiving of the small problems than I am, you will almost certainly enjoy it.