The Movie Buffer

Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 Days of Night


No, no, master! I wasn't going to spoil anything


Vampires on film usually take one of two character types: the aristocrat, who dresses in haute-couture and torments the audience with long-winded pretentious dialog, and the nihilist, who spouts angst more readily than a flock of emo-kids. 30 Days of Night takes the vampire and brings it to a gritty, feral level. Like a pack of wolves, they descend onto the arctic town of Barrow, Alaska, to use the month of darkness to slake their thirst for blood and violence.

Adapted from the critically acclaimed, eponymous graphic novel, the film uses an almost film noir style to capture the unique visuals from the source material. At times the director’s approach is bang on, it looks great, but his vision becomes tainted as he needs a broader palette to accentuate the gore. Like in every comic book movie, there were some creative shortcuts taken to shorten the narrative and jazz up the action but the film doesn’t suffer that much because the original story was rather sparse and action oriented. Another benefit for the using this particular comic, is that the general public is not entirely aware of the original so any discrepancies would go unnoticed.

The film opens up with a mysterious stranger arriving in Barrow, whose residents are preparing for the winter darkness and snowstorms. A rash of vandalism introduces the main characters of the film: the pragmatic hero, Sheriff Eben Olesen (Josh Hartnett) and the love interest/estranged wife, Fire Marshal Stella Olesen(Melissa George). The rest of the cast are introduced half heartedly during Eben’s final patrol before darkness floods the town. Without warning, the power is cut, the phone relay station is destroyed so, the already darkened town is further isolated from the outside world. The townsfolk pour into the snow covered streets to find out what’s going on and then the vampires pounce. Within minutes, dozens of people are brutally killed and the survivors are trapped in their homes, waiting to die as the vampires ransack each house looking for them.

The acting is wooden, but we’re not really supposed to care for these people, are we? They get eviscerated seconds after their names are announced. The only really good piece of acting comes from Danny Huston, who plays the lead vampire. He seems to wrestle with the fact that vampires have tried to remain covert over the centuries but now they are blatantly casting the spotlight on themselves.

The film’s action peaks and crests as the story takes leaps and bounds, chewing through days without notice. The time line in the film is all over the place, the first few days flow rather well and then cut to day nine, or 12 then 25 then 29 with little more than some text popping up on screen to give reference. It would be boring to see the people do all the mundane things they need to do to survive, but at least give us an idea of what they are doing to avoid the patrolling vampires to get food or something.

Most of the dialog is terrible and makes the characters, especially Stella, seem like Chester the Terrier from the Looney Toons, always yapping, “I’ll come with you” or “You’re not going without me”. At one point, one of the nameless survivors suggests a hiding spot in an attic “that’s pretty well hidden. You’d have to be looking for the door to find it”. When the group arrives at the house with the secret attic, we see that It’s not as hidden as advertised: it was one of those hatches with the ball dangling on a string. Come on, in a life or death situation, would anyone consider that “well hidden”? Both of these are the sort of thing that could have been written out with ease but they left them in, probably for giggles.

30 Days of Night, the graphic novel, was such a stylized piece, I had hoped that they would keep in that same vein for the film and they tried but ended up producing a generic two hour splatterfest. Even though it delivered plenty of violence and the best decapitation scene since Dennis Hopper’s in Speed, the film floundered with the story and tried to slick it over with tight editing and visual effects. This is certainly a decent vampire film for a Halloween viewing, but with a promising film like “I Am Legend” coming in a little over a month, I would pass on 30 Days. I’d give this film a 4/10 or two stars out of five.


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