’30 Days’ lacks bite
Vail, CO, Colorado
VAIL ” It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a solid vampire flick. In fact, they might be due for a makeover, in the same way “28 Days Later” helped relaunch zombies as lightning-fast killers. “30 Days of Night” seems to want to revitalize vampire legend in the same way, and while it has a clever premise, it ultimately fails to make good on the possibilities laid at its feet.
Based on a graphic (and we mean graphic) novel, “30 Days of Night” takes place in Barrow, Alaska, a desolate town far north of the Arctic Circle. True to the title, Barrow receives over a month without sunlight — which works out great for a coven of ship-borne vampires who plan to invade the town on the final sunset and feast on the locals for the month-long darkness.
Director David Slade starts promisingly, with wide, spooky shots of the last orange rays of the sun glancing off of Barrow’s barren landscape. An eerie stranger (Ben Foster) sneaks into town, demanding raw meat and warning that everyone will soon be dead. This doesn’t sit well with the town’s sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), especially since an unknown n’er-do-well has stolen and destroyed everyone’s satellite phones and killed all the sled dogs in town. Eben throws the stranger in jail and continues to brood over his wife Stella (Melissa George), who plans to leave him for the comparatively happier climes of Anchorage.
Before the unhappy couple can break up, though, the shadowy vampires arrive, cut off the power and proceed to massacre the entire town. These needle-toothed, hygiene-deficient vamps don’t so much bite necks as rend people limb-from-limb, and they look more like demons than classical vampires (but they still dress in always-stylish black). They’re led by Marlow (Danny Huston), who seems to be the only thinking member of their clan; he speaks in an odd, gurgling language that sounds like an Eastern European dialect. Though his speech is subtitled, he never really says anything more profound than “we spent centuries making them think we were only nightmares.”
The bloodsuckers quickly overpower the humans, forcing the survivors to hide out in attics and grocery stores. Here, the movie takes a wrong turn as we’re forced to sit out time with boring, underdeveloped townspeople while the vampires supposedly just wait patiently in the snow. Then, an incongruous dateline like “Day 13” pops up and we’re supposed to not care what happened in the interim, simply because Hartnett obviously hasn’t shaved.
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The vampires, for all their initial intrigue, end up being one-note killers with little mystery or mythology to them. The humans learn that they can kill vampires by lopping their heads off, which leads to a few gory moments of suspense, but then the plot drops the ball in supremely stupid ways, like implying that vampires can’t see humans walking through a blizzard or that they have selective hearing and won’t notice a loud fight outside despite waiting for weeks for these clowns to come out of the attic.
It doesn’t help that Hartnett and George are bland as cardboard; you don’t care about their foundering relationship, and when Hartnett has his big hero moment, he doesn’t have the charisma to sell it. Huston is creepy as Marlow, but he doesn’t really have that much to do. Only Foster leaves a lasting impression, with his thousand-yard-stare, kooky accent and haunted take on this clan’s version of Renfield.
If you’re dying (heh) for a Halloween flick that doesn’t involve torture porn like “Saw,” “30 Days” has a few moments of bloody tension, but it’s broken up by long, boring sections that actually make the movie feel 30 days long. I admire Slade’s attempts to innovate on well-worn vampire movie themes, but ultimately he doesn’t do enough. Red blood on white snow and an interminable darkness as a vampire’s playground should be a bulletproof formula for horror success, but “30 Days of Night” ultimately can’t quite live up to the task at hand.