28 February 2010

Retro Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

(This is a revised version of my original theatrical review of the film from 2007. Having re-evaluated the movie and rewritten the review I felt it worth publishing. I am aware that as a 2007 release “30 Days of Night” may feel somewhat overly contemporary in the “Retro Review” section but ultimately that’s the only place it really fits into.)

B+

30 Days of Night
2007, 113mins, 15
Director: David Slade
Writer (s): Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson
Cast includes: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior
UK Release Date: 31st October 2007


Ripped from a seriously fertile graphic novel “30 Days of Night” is an atmospheric and chilling picture. Directed by David Slade (2006’s monumentally edgy “Hardy Candy”) “30 Days of Night” restores some proper fright into the vampire mythology with a superb central concept and a roster of shiver inducing scares. The film asks maybe a little much of audiences with its 113 minute running time but overall fans of horror and gored up mayhem should be mighty pleased with what Slade has concocted. Certainly as an admirer of the source material myself I was heartily satisfied.

The remote Alaskan town of Barrow has to endure a strange phenomenon every year; a month in which the sun sets for good and perpetual darkness swallows the land. Many of the residents head elsewhere during this 30 days of night but the towns core remain. As that time of the year rolls around Sheriff Ebon Olsen (Josh Hartnett) starts to notice strange things happening; culminating in the arrival of a disturbing stranger (Ben Foster) who has seemingly conducted a series of crimes that will keep the town in complete isolation. His motives are blurry until a swarm of ravenous vampires descend on the permanently nocturnal environment; feeding on Barrow’s inhabitants at a violent rate. The responsibility then falls on Ebon and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) to ensure that the remaining folk evade and survive the vampires during the month of darkness.

“30 Days of Night” is a good horror film because it does something interesting and on a base level it’s scary. Too often the genre just spits out the same uninventive hack and slash escapades; more likely to bore viewers than have them nibbling on their nails. “30 Days of Night” has an ingenious plotline and a few decent performances; aspects aided by Slade’s ability to milk tension and compile freaky imagery. The movie has failings (the passing of time is poorly presented for example) but it generally succeeds in the most pivotal areas, namely that it’s exciting and the leads are sympathetic.

Josh Hartnett is better than usual in “30 Days of Night” but really it’s the immediate supporting players who nab the show. Melissa George carries an underwritten part with a surprisingly firm and skilled hand whilst Ben Foster is genuinely unsettling as the weedy but malicious stranger who sets the town up for vampire invasion. However the real golden performance is provided by Danny Huston as the terrifying leader of the bloodthirsty hoard. It’s through Huston’s undying evil that Slade really captures the dangerous extent of the foes at hand; the actor rewarding his director’s faith with a turn that oozes menace and ferocity. I’m the first to admit that the film has arranged an unusual cast but somehow it all kind of works. Certainly you end up caring for the heroes and fearing the villains; something many a frightener has failed to achieve.

The film looks brilliant and has been photographed wonderfully by Slade and his crew. The sense of isolation and aloneness is well executed even if the passing of time is depicted lazily (subtitles and stubble are the primary tools). From a visual standpoint Slade has done a solid job of replicating the graphic novel’s style; a difficult feat given the somewhat abstract nature of source illustrator Ben Templesmith’s frosty work. “30 Days of Night” focuses mostly on building dread and churning out tension as the invaders hunt the humans but it also throws up some commendable bursts of bloody action. One scene involving an industrial grinder and a decapitation should be of particular interest to gore aficionados; but whilst this might be the film at its most excessive Slade doesn’t skimp on the viscera as a general rule.

Clunky dialogue and a slightly bloated 113 minute runtime (this could have been a 100 minute production with added editorial stringency) are minor impediments to an otherwise effective horror flick. “30 Days of Night” is humourless but this removes the need for tongue in cheek flamboyancy, something too common in contemporary vampire fare. “30 Days of Night” instead dishes out bleak and blood soaked scares; and carries them off with panache and artistic dignity. For those wanting a reminder of why vampires are terrifying “30 Days of Night” is a good starting point.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2007,2010

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