Thursday 10 April 2008

30 Days Of Night (2007)

Thursday 10 April 2008
Director: David Slade
Writers: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie & Brian Nelson (based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith)

Cast: Josh Hartnett (Sheriff Ebe Oleson), Melissa George (Stella Oleson), Danny Huston (Marlow), Ben Foster (The Stranger), Mark Boone Junior (Beau Brower), Mark Rendall (Jake Oleson), Amber Sainsbury (Denise), Manu Bennett (Deputy Billy Kitka), Megan Franich (Iris), Joel Tobeck (Doug Hertz), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Lucy Ikos), Nathaniel Lees (Carter Davies), Craig Hall (Wilson Bulosan), Chic Littlewood (Isaac Bulosan) & Peter Feeney (John Riis)

As a remote Alaskan town faces a month's perpetual darkness, a group of vampires arrive to exploit the situation...

Based on a series of graphic novels (this adapts the first, best instalment), British director David Slade follows indie-hit Hard Candy with a high-concept vampire flick. 30 Days Of Night is such a beautifully simple idea, you can't believe nobody thought of before (although, judging from this Twilight Zone, they came close), and finds vampires attacking a remote Alaskan mining town during a period when the sun disappears – eliminating their only real threat...

Josh Harnett (whose career choices after Pearl Harbor debacle have been pleasantly left-field) stars as Sheriff Ebe Oleson; father of teenager Jake (Mark Rendall) and estranged husband of Stella (Melissa George). The town of Barrow wave goodbye to half its population (those who can't stomach constant night-time), before Ebe starts investigating ominous clues to an indeterminate threat: a pit of burned cell/satellite phones, slaughtered huskies, and a ratty stranger's (Ben Foster) portentous talk of bloodshed.

Indeed, the town is soon under attack from strong, agile, vicious, ravenous vampires -- who speak in their own rasping language -- led by Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. Alright, it's actually Danny Huston, calling himself Marlow here. A nod to Barlow in Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot?

The film is a straight-forward tale of survival, with townsfolk finding refuge under their stilt-raised homes and inside locked attics. Needless to say, the Oleson family unit survive the initial carnage, with Barrow's shell-shocked citizens look to their Sheriff for leadership. His advice seems to be: sit tight. Well, it's not the Schwarzenegger way, but it's certainly what I'd do.

There are some things 30 Days Of Night does well, and others it does very poorly. The premise is a gloriously simple idea (the screenplay writes itself in your head), director David Slade orchestrates tension and escalating horror with a keen eye. There are creepy scenes and a sense of dread, but it's all undermined by two big weaknesses: the awkward pacing and a lack of compelling story after the premise blows its load.

It was never going to be easy trying to make a 113-minute movie feel like a 30 day experience, but the film is full of ridiculous time-jumps that make the vamps look inept. How hard can it be for supernatural nasties to orchestrate a town-wide search, with a guaranteed four-week window of superiority? If the surviving humans mounted an effective defence after a few days of scurrying around in fear, it might have been okay. But that never really happens. An utraviolet light (powered by a generator) dispatches a vampiress nastily, while an overzealous fork-lift truck driver goes on a kamikaze run in one scene, but most of the film is just people sitting inside buldings keeping quiet.

Helping to ease tedium, the vampires are unsettling creations (foreign, powerful, determined and unmerciful), but after being effectively introduced in half-glimpsed shots, and the breathless excitement of their opening attack, they're happy to stand around in the snow – waiting for the drip, drip of dumb humans to make a run for it.

The beautiful Melissa George (who, when interviewed, said she considers this "a romance" – er, it's not), has always been an agreeable screen presence, but she doesn't make any impression here. Harnett gives a decent performance, but his character is bland. The other characters are unmemorable stereotypes. Only Foster and Huston dominate scenes -- both grabbing clich├ęd roles (as a modern Renfield and Dracula) by the throat.

This should have been a fine companion piece to The Thing, but it's a film where the premise is the star and it has little else up its sleeve. If it wasn't for some unflinching scenes of violence and gore (an oasis in a desert of sanitized PG horrors recently), and a pervading sense of threat that Slade creates, 30 Days Of Night would have been a massive waste of time.

But it's not. It's actually very watchable and exciting at times, despite obvious flaws. It's slick and stylishly shot, the vampires are the best cinematic neck-biters in 20 years, and the 30 days deadline of the premise guarantees viewing commitment. By the time a silly development arrives near the end (faithful to the novel; where it was also a silly twist), it's clear that 30 Days Of Night is what it is: an infrequently cool horror with a premise that runs out of steam quickly.

Columbia Pictures
Budget: $32 million
113 minutes

PICTURE: 2.35:1 | SOUND: DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1 / SDDS