MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett, Megan Franich, Joel Tobeck, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Nathaniel Lees, Craig Hall, Chic Littlewood, Peter Feeney, Andrew Stehlin, John Rawls, Jared Turner/ Runtime: 113 minutes
I think it is quite safe to say that if a person such as myself managed to possess in equal measure both the filmmaking skill (to say nothing of a decent bankroll) to take a year to just kick back, relax, and try to make a film, it might just possibly end up looking very much like the movie I am reviewing today 30 Days of Night. Of course if you know me this shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise to you. You see dear reader, the fact is that when it comes to subgenres of film that I adore and cherish, the subgenre that deals with creatures who drink blood, and who have a fatal allergy to both wooden stakes as well as garlic (depending on the film) is one that I have always found to be quite intriguing. Thankfully for me, although there are certainly some real ash heaps to be found amidst the stronger entries in this quite iconic subgenre of movie magic (cough every single Twilight movie ever made cough cough), the fact still remains that the world of movie magic is thankfully nowhere close to being overrun with films starring the world’s favorite fanged creatures of the night, and as a result, quite a few of these movies are actually fairly decent in terms of quality. Happily I can let you know that the film I am reviewing today known as 30 Days of Night manages to keep the delightfully undead and loving it legacy of good entries in the vampire subgenre of horror undead and quite well. Indeed, based on a comic book miniseries of the same name, this is a film that manages to have a unique narrative, surprisingly decent acting, actually good work in the effects department, enough gore to keep the gore hounds happy, and a score that is creepy in all the best ways, it is safe to say that this film will be one that you will love to bite into time and time again.
The plot is as follows: 30 Days of Nate takes place in a small, seemingly ordinary little town in the state of Alaska by the name of Barrow. Indeed, in many respects Barrow is what you would come to think of when you think of small towns with perhaps the exceptions being that not only is Barrow the most northern city in the entire United States, but it also has a month where they are enveloped in complete and utter darkness. However this year on the last day before this “monthly blackout”, strange things have been occurring in this little town as not only do all the dogs in town wind up butchered, but every single satellite phone is burnt to a crisp, the computers keep crashing, and the town chopper has been decimated. Of course, it doesn’t take long to see that the culprits behind this is a roving and quite lethal pack of vampires though I guess it would make sense that they would wind up here due to the fact that even with sunblock on, the sun and vampires really don’t mix….at all. Thus we see that this bloodthirsty squad as chosen to show up for a little feast and the town’s residents that are still there are the guests of honor. Yet for all their planning and cunning, we soon learn that one thing these bloodsuckers didn’t expect was the determination of a group of the town’s denizens including the town’s sheriff Eben who, along with his stranded estranged wife Stella and his teen brother Jake decides to hole up in various spots all over the town with the goal in mind of waiting the month out and thus driving the vampires back out to wherever they came from. Our squad of fanged terrorists have their own plans however. You see, in addition to desiring both the blood of those in town as well as the darkness, this group of bloodsuckers is one which really cherishes and strives to exist only as nightmare in the minds of their victims since it helps raise how effective they are when they go in for the kill (clearly someone twisted a page out of Batman here, but I digress). Thus, to that end it isn’t enough for these vamps to kill everyone; rather they need to both kill everyone and wipe the town off the face of the Earth literally. Thus it is up to our intrepid group of heroes to use everything they can get their hands to take the fight to the group of fanged menaces and reclaim their town before it is too late (dun dun dunnnn!!)
Now whilst this is by absolutely no measure a “perfect film”, it should still be pointed out that 30 Days of Night is most assuredly a riveting and downright engaging new curveball in the history of vampire cinema. Indeed one key ingredient of this film that I actually happened to enjoy immensely is how there really is a huge void of comprehension on the part of the humans in this film as to just what exactly is going on for a large chunk of the overall movie. Indeed in that regard, the film then is extremely successful in conjuring up a realistic mood where panic is the soup de jour and the only hint they have that something is amiss is the fact that people are being butchered outside their houses by….something. Indeed the blood literally free flows in the snowy avenues around town to the point that I feel that blood itself is something of a character in the film due to how it both brings forth the horror this film is trying to convey whilst also reminding of how much butchery these creatures can bring about. Yet even after the humans in the film start putting the pieces together, not everyone feels that what is “traditionally” done to eradicate a vampire will be enough to the point that it is literally said in the movie that “just because it worked on Bela Lugosi” doesn’t mean it will work here. Indeed the fact that there is this kind of both dialogue and insight in this film in addition to the sheer horror, unease, and carnage throughout to say nothing of the realistic manner in which our human characters conduct themselves throughout the narrative does a wonderful job of both making the story feel real, but also putting us smackdab in the middle of the nightmare with the characters themselves.
Now from the angle of performances, this is a film that also manages to do surprisingly quite well for itself. This starts with Josh Hartnett, yes the same guy who was a lead in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in 2001 and Halloween H20 in 1998, who is actually good as the stoic sheriff in town who becomes the defacto leader of the human resistance against becoming chow for the pack of vamps in town. Yes in all fairness it is a performance that seems to be mostly one emotion, but it is an emotion that Hartnett is able to tap into quite well and give us a character worth rooting for as does whatever he can to save his town. We also get wonderful support work from Melissa George, Ben Foster, Mark Rendall amongst others, but by far the, without a doubt, finest performance in the film has to be from Danny Huston as the head of the vampire pack. Indeed normally known for being the guy you call when you want an antagonist that is cocky, and smarmy to the hilt, Huston ditches all of that and gives us a performance that is actually downright terrifying. This is because there is no mercy to be found when it comes to this creature, and just as terrifying, no logic or reason for why he and his brood have chosen this town for their human blood buffet. Rather it’s because plain and simply they love what they are and what they do and Huston just takes the opportunity to put a new spin on a time honored creature and really truly manages to make it his own and then some. Really truly fantastic work from a guy who we’ve come to expect that from time and time again.
Finally from a technical perspective I can also admit that this movie is very well done especially when it comes to the helming and cinematography which are absolutely incredible as witnessed by both a terrific collection of overhead shots giving quite the unique perspective as well as being able to see with wonderful clarity all the blasts of a gun, and all the rose red blood pooling against the whiteness of the snow. Indeed it really is phenomenal work to behold especially since it really adds to the despair and resignation of everything going on. There is also, for those of you who like this kind of thing, enough realistic gore to go around and which placate your desire to see blood and guts for at least 12-18 hours. I also really appreciated how they made the vampire menace look in this film because even though they’ve been altered just slightly, they still don’t go in the extreme direction as seen in such vampire entries as The Lost Boys or Buffy. Rather the changes are there, but not quite so obvious that you would know a fanged menace was walking across the street from you until it was too late. Finally I also felt that the musical accompaniment in this film courtesy of composer Brian Reitzell was phenomenally eerie and nerve-wracking even if feels more like a set of spooky noises rather than what you might think of as a typical score. Suffice it to say that this is truly a delightful film which in all the right ways gave me the viewing experience I wanted and kept me engaged from entrail to entrail ehhh end to end.
All in all through the power of talented work on both sides of the camera as well as by mixing together several key ingredients from celebrated horror god John Carpenter’s 1982 take on The Thing, Dawn of the Dead be it the 1978 original or the surprisingly enjoyable Zach Snyder-helmed remake from the early 2000s as well as the hipster-adored 1987 vamp classic from Joel Schumacher that is The Lost Boys, it is safe for this reviewer to say that 30 Days of Night is one of the best in the world of fanged films to come along here lately. Indeed not only is the story, despite being an adaptation of a comic book miniseries, both clever and novel, but the work behind the camera is truly top-notch and the actors involved in front of the camera really do a great job at giving this film the visceral bite (pun intended) it desperately needed. Yes this film may not by any stretch of the imagination go on to be nominated for any awards, I mean it’s not like Francis Ford Coppola helmed this or anything, but nevertheless 30 Days of Night still gives offers up enough blood, gore, and vampire-induced mayhem that it will be sure to become a Halloween favorite of yours for years to come….just don’t eat any garlic breadsticks while watching it. On a scale of 1-5 I give 30 Days of Night a solid 3.5 out of 5.