Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
2007/ USA, New Zealand
Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Danny Huston, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendell
Based on Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s comic book of the same name, 30 Days of Night is a vampire movie with real bite (ha! No? OK). The bloodsuckers here are not suave, be-caped Transylvanians or lovesick teenagers. They don’t dissipate into a cloud of bats, sparkle in sunlight or recite tragic romantic poetry. These are feral, merciless monsters who speak in guttural snarls and glottal stops, ripping off heads to get at the claret within, and enjoying it too. They really aren’t fucking around, and the film as a whole takes it cue from its creatures; aside from a slightly languid (and faintly preposterous) third act, it’s for the most part an exercise in gore-drenched, no-nonsense nastiness, and it actually pulls off the feat of making vampires scary again.
30 Days of Night is hinged on one of those simple but clever ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ plot ideas. Set in Barrow, Alaska, the story follows a band of townsfolk, led by Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) trying to survive against the vampiric onslaught. The twist is that, unfortunately for Barrow’s residents, the isolated town undergoes an annual thirty days without sunlight during winter – hence the title – making it a perfect hunting ground for the pack of ancient, hungry vampires, led by Danny Huston.
Huston is a menacing presence throughout, and his/his pack’s history is never explained, making them all the more sinister and interesting. They’re like forces of nature, appearing seemingly from nowhere; hunter predators who view hapless humans as nothing more than fleshy meals on legs. Ben Foster is on fine form, oozing slime as the vampires’ human emissary, who sabotages all of Barrow’s methods of reaching the outside world to make way for his masters. Hartnett and George are solid and have some chemistry, although to be honest they aren’t the real focus here; the vampires steal the show.
The film drips with tense atmosphere, a pervasive sense of absolute dread running throughout. There is no light here, literally or otherwise, and the film’s constant piling on of one bad thing after another will probably just feel oppressive to some. But it takes a certain amount of dedicated schadenfreude to make something this genuinely bleak, and once the blood starts flowing, there’s something strangely compelling about seeing just how hopeless things will get.
30 Days of Night is a sharp, blood-streaked antidote to every film which makes vampires seem sexy or fashionable. Whether you’re looking for a vampire movie with a slightly left-field approach, or you’re just after some gory, nerve-rattling late-night viewing on a cold autumn night, 30 Days of Night is one you can really sink your teeth into (sorry).