30 Days of Night
Directed by David Slade
..AND YET THE STREETS REMAIN LIT
Reviewed by: Dr. McPhearson
On the northernmost tip of Alaska, three hundred miles from any other form of civilization, lies the small town of Barrow, a cabin-plotted society that is, for a straight thirty-day duration of the winter, enveloped by dark clouds, blocking out any sunlight of the sort. Ugh, that was a mouthful, but luckily, that's pretty much all you need to know in terms of scene-setting for this film; it's snowing, it's dark, and the people in town are going to be stuck there for a month.
"30 Days of Night" was a three-part graphic novel series released by IDW Publishing in 2002. It marked the first real success of both its illustrator (Ben Templesmith) and its writer (Steve Niles), who also managed to put his two-cents worth into the film's screenplay. Jump-starting the careers of Templesmith and Niles, the vampirical trilogy went on to spawn not only several spin-offs, but also a sequel series entitled "Dark Days" , which called both men back to the table.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, 'Well that's all fine and dandy, Doc, but I came here to read a review of the film, not to hear the backstory of the original series.' And to that I reply, Patience is a virtue, young ones. I promise that, as Shakespeare said, "Though tis mad, tis method in't". See, I said all of that to say this:
The graphic series was looked at as a reinvention of the vampire genre, in which the sophistication and regality of Count Dracula had been traded in for a personality that falls somewhere in between the coolness of Hannibal Lecter and the ferocity of the Alien in, well, "Alien". Just as "28 Days Later" took fantastic liberties with the zombie caricature, "30 Days" had, as a film, the potential to really redefine the vampire character. And in there lies the key: potential. The fact that "30 Days of Night" could of been a great film makes it all the more painful for me to tell you that it, at least in my eyes, fell short.
I point to the director, David Slade, who, along with screenwriter Brian Nelson, managed to produce one of the best, if not sadly overlooked, films of 2005, "Hard Candy". Yet now, here the two are, along with Niles and Stuart Beattie of "Collateral", piecing together a screenplay that is, in my opinion, the film's greatest downfall. There is no doubt that these four men are talented in their own respect, but now, instead of sticking with the genre reinvention that made the graphic series so popular, they seem to have decided to work in terms of conventions, lacing random killings and elongated expositional monologues throughout.
But it's not all bad, I should fairly state. The first twenty-five minutes are actually pretty entertaining. We are introduced to Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) , his younger brother Jake (Mark Rendall), his main deputy Billy Kitka (Manu Bennett), and of course, his estranged wife and love interest Stella Oleson (the not-bad-looking Stella Oleson); we are shown a small slice of Barrow life before the 'blackout', in which, despite the cold weather surrounding them, the citizens of the town are pretty warm-hearted. We get a taste of what all these characters are about... sadly, though, it wasn't a strong enough taste to make me feel for any of these characters in their living, or ultimately, in their dying.
A character I did feel for, however, was one who didn't even have a name. Seriously, in the credits, he is labeled as The Stranger. Played by the up-and-coming and underrated Ben Foster, The Stranger arrives in town the night before the attack, causes a scene at a local diner, and gets himself through into a jail cell in Eben's police headquarters. However, this newcomer is more than meets the eye... is his arrival just coincidence, or is he in cahoots with the soon-to-arrive bloodsuckers? I won't tell you the answer, not just because I don't want to spoil it, but also because, based on all the other horror films you've ever seen, you can probably already guess the answer.
And there is where the story, and the film in its entirety, drop off of the precedent-changing pedestal I thought it would be set upon: it's exactly like every other horror movie you've seen, at least in terms of its conventional plot-points.
Its first act is a wonderful stage-setter, but unfortunately, is followed by an hour-and-a-half of nothing more than a 'run-hide-run-hide', 'somebody dies here-somebody dies there' monster movie, in which the cast list dwindles not only because the monsters catch on, but also because the 'good guys' start making stupid decisions, like standing in the middle of the town and screaming for help; yeah, the vampires definitely won't hear that.
Also, the band of heroes manage find a fantastic hiding spot, only to later run to a different location for no real reason. Seriously, if I had a quarter for every time Hartnett's character tells his group, "We can't stay here", I'd... well, I'd have about four quarters, but that's still three more than I actually would have liked to have. From an attic to a general store (which I understand), and the general store to the police station (which I don't understand), and the station to a factory (again, I don't get it), the characters find it necessary to stick their necks out and chance getting picked off. Why, you might ask? "Because the monsters could find us," Eben Oleson would reply. Huh, fancy that. Maybe if you didn't scream across town at one another, the darn things wouldn't find you to begin with.
But now I'm rambling, and for that I apologize. I just can't get over the fact that, here we had some great actors (Foster and Danny Huston as the Vampire Lord Marlow were the most exceptional, I would say) as well as some wonderful behind-the-camera work (there is one aerial shot that alone makes up my props to the film's cinematographer Jo Willems). This project had so much going for it; but unfortunately, it's downfall came from its desire to 'be like everyone else', to throw it's original premise to the wind in exchange for cheap thrills.
I would love to go on and on about what they could have done to make this film more unique; however, I cannot review this movie based on what it could have been, but rather, on what is offered to us. Having not read cover-to-cover the mini-series from which this film is based, I can't say that they should have stuck to the source material. All I know is that, this is a film that promised me something new, and this is a film that lied to me.
5 OUT OF 10
Copyright © 2007 Dr. McPhearson used with permission
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