30 Days Of Night (2007)

Following his work on the impressive Hard Candy, director David Slade takes on a more mainstream, big-budget horror romp in the form of 30 Days of Night. Conceived in the pages of a comic (sorry…graphic novel), the film has a very simple premise that could easily compete with any “high concept” blockbuster (where a single line is enough to sell the idea to a studio – think Snakes on a Plane, they don’t come much more high concept than that). Here, the defining statement would be along the lines of: “vampires lay siege to an Alaskan town that is plunged into continuous darkness for thirty days of the year”.

Admittedly, it’s an evocative idea that’s seemingly brimming with potential, but whether it’s a problem that lies with the original source material or just the way it’s been transferred to film, that potential is mostly squandered. Much of this disappointment stems from the fact that in the premise at the movie’s heart there is an almost perfect horror set-up – a town that’s isolated from civilisation, no help in sight, even the weather is against them, and yet because it’s perpetually dark that makes it the ideal environment for the creatures preying on them. It’s a situation not entirely dissimilar to that facing the Antarctic research team in John Carpenter’s The Thing, though what’s ever-present in The Thing (and deservedly earns it a place as a horror classic) and is completely lacking from 30 Days of Night can be summarised in one word: tension. It wants to play as a survival horror picture, with countless shots of the “heroic band” huddled in various locations, hiding from the vampires hunting them, and whilst these moments should all be riddled with suspense, they fall completely flat to the point of tedium (and at just shy of two hours, the film really suffers for it).

Perhaps it’s because there never seems to be any threat, either from their foes or from other factors that should have been playing a part – internal conflicts, need for food, heat, water, the inhospitable weather etc. At one point the film even makes the detrimental error of having Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) reference these potential difficulties to the group of survivors as they try to wait out the thirty days until the sun will once again rise, only for the film to then do absolutely nothing with it.  Out of nowhere markers such as “Day 7”, “Day 13” and so on will turn up on screen, skipping over the intervening time periods and thus not showing any visible struggle having taken place.  This apparent lack of hardship not only throws away the inherent tension of the survival situation, but also is a rather massive plot hole, though it is one of many rather boneheaded moves in the plot department, not the least of which is the ending which is a dumb cop-out and anticlimactic to the extreme.

The general air of ennui could also be a symptom of it being incredibly difficult to muster any interest in these people – not because they’re horrible human beings, but simply because they’re entirely bland, both as characters and actors. In films where we have a similar format – a small group of survivors trying desperately to overcome monstrous hordes (like Aliens or Dawn of the Dead, for example) – it’s absolutely vital that we have some kind of empathy for the protagonists (we don’t have to like them, though, just recognise the threat on a human level), or at the very least have an interest in seeing them survive. Here, the movie gives us nothing – on the character front, there’s no time spent getting to know them, nor is there the subtle characterisation in the deceptively everyday dialogue between them like in Alien.  As far as acting goes, Hartnett just stands around looking handsome and stoic in the standard “hero” role and is as engaging as polystyrene package filler, whilst Danny Huston as the lead vampire tries to be menacing but generally lets the makeup do the acting. He’s also unintentionally funny – someone had the bright idea of having the vampires speak entirely in a language that sounds like something from Star Trek, and it’s done in such a serious, po-faced manner that it’s laughable, especially combined with the fact that Huston in his vampire makeup is a dead ringer for one of the singers in the Pet Shop Boys.

A note on the vampires – although it’s clear what they’re supposed to be, they drink blood and have a severe allergy to sunlight – they could just as easily be zombies, since that’s the way the script treats them. They don’t speak (aside from the occasional line of “Klingon”), they have a series of hisses and high-pitched snarls that make them sound like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park (only irritating to the Nth degree) and demonstrate little intelligence, as evident in another rather silly fault with the script that again damages any chance at creating tension – they have thirty days of darkness, right? So you’d think they’d hold back and make sure they have enough supplies to last them until their time’s up. But no, instead they go nuts, gorge themselves crazy and seem to decimate the entire town’s population within moments. Not only does this seem like another misstep in the plot, but there would have been so much more suspense in seeing them slowly whittle down the survivors despite their best efforts to defend themselves.  All of this is more suited to traditional zombie tactics, which would have been just fine had the script the wherewithal to look at how classic zombie survival horror movies use the claustrophobia of being trapped, the innate nature of humans to turn on each other under pressure etc. to ramp up the tension, but this doesn’t, and as such much of the film is boring.

It’s not a particularly terrible film, it’s too bland for that, it’s just that the overall product is dull and generally lacks bite. What may keep it tolerable is the glossy cinematography and the occasional burst of impressive gore (there’s enough of the red stuff on display to assuage any bloodthirsty gorehound), but that’s not exactly an accomplishment for what’s quite a high-budget affair within terms of horror movies. The style might be enough to keep some happy, but for the majority I suspect attention will wander during its overlong running time and for anyone versed in the genre it will prove a forgettable exercise in style over content.

Rating: ★★★½☆☆☆☆☆☆

3 Comments on “30 Days Of Night”

  1. Aaron Gillott says:

    I forgot to say that the film also follows that bloody irritating trend of thinking “shakycam + quick cuts + cranked-up music = SCARY!” By Beelzebub’s balls, will someone *please* tell the current crop of genre filmmakers that it doesn’t work and is distracting as hell, it’s getting on my nerves whenever I see it churned out.

  2. The Scullion says:

    This film had ONE good tracking shot, that panned over the village as the manic and completely insane vampires dragged people from their homes and ate them, blood spraying from their bodies onto the snow outside. It was stunning and horrific all in one.

    The rest of the film was utterly shit.

    I totally agree with your review. The vampires made no sense, their actions completely idiotic, and the Humans were utterly dull.

    Pointless waste of a decent idea. Case closed.

  3. Rag says:

    Yup. It’s John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars with wooly jumpers. Ok, it’s higher budget, better(ish) scripted and has less aged cinematography. But nowhere near as enjoyable. Hell, it didn’t have any flying (and unerringly accurate) circular saw blades.

    Ok, my view may be slightly biased by my love of reasonably low budget, slightly tacky films with scores played on an aged casio synth. In other words, anything by John Carpenter (how can you not love Prince of Darkness, even if it’s just for Alice Cooper stabbing a guy with a bike). But even so… A for effort, D- for attainment.

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