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October 22, 2012
 

Movie Mondays: 30 Days of Night

Title: 30 Days of Night
Director: David Slade
Writers: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, and Brian Nelson (created by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith)
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: October 19th, 2007
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, and Ben Foster
MPAA: R

Halloween is around the corner, and it’s about time we take a look at 30 Days of Night for Movie Mondays.

The premise, like most vampire premises, is pretty easy to grasp. Vampires invade a small town, and a group of disbelieving (at first) townspeople must band together to stay alive.

However, this isn’t just any small town. This is Barstow, Alaska during the time when there’s no sun for thirty days.

This creates an interesting premise. Unlike most vampire tales, there’s no sanctuary to be found during the day. It’s just sheer survival 24/7. Also, having it in isolated Barstow gives it another story advantage. There’s the harsh cold terrain with no main highways to get out of it. Removing the common logic of “why don’t they just pack up and get the hell out of there?”

The production takes full advantage of the premise and setting, with no expenses spared. The cinematography is cold, stark, and beautiful like the dead winter nights. This is definitely due to the lighting done exactly right to where it’s not so dark that you can’t see anything, but not so light that it kills the mood. Basically, 30 Days of Night captures a gritty, snowbound atmosphere perfectly without trying too hard.

Sheriff with an axe? I guess that makes him…an Axe Cop. YEEEEAAAAAH!!

Same goes for David Slade’s directing, which is done with care and precision. Although I felt he could’ve milked the suspense and seat-jumping moments much, much more, Slade makes every shot here count. There’s no shaky camera technique here. The way the cameras are positioned and set up to serve the story and even the scene transitions are done with flawless set ups for the next moments.

Horror films aren’t known for great acting, but there’s nothing lackluster here. Of course, everyone plays the typical stock characters, but unlike the average horror film, they’re well-written stock characters and well acted ones. Josh Hartnett (as Sheriff Eben Oleson) gives the hero sheriff genuine fear, wit, and determination, and it makes me miss the days when Hartnett had the leading role in big budget films.

Vampire movie with Eskimos? SOLD!

As far as the story goes, its biggest strength is actually not the horror aspect, but rather the psychological suspense aspect of it. Although 30 Days of Night is a vampire film, the storytelling fits more along the lines of a zombie tale (or the proto-zombie vampire tale of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend). The moments where it’s about a group of survivors banding together against the blizzard’s storm and the near inhuman vampires is when the film is at its best. Probably the film’s best moments are when everyone’s holed up in a small attic and wondering whether or not they should take a risk and move on. It’s moments like these that provide both character studies and perfect psychological suspense.

However, what keeps 30 Days of Night from being a vampire masterpiece is ironically its horror aspects. In some horror films less is more, and 30 Days of Night doesn’t seem to understand that concept. Rather than letting our imaginations create the vampires, 30 Days of Night reveals them about a third of the way in, which is kind of like the old monster movies where you see that the monster is nothing more than a man in a rubber suit. Sure, the vampires are given good makeup and prosthetics. But at the end of the day they just seem to be black eyed people with bad dentures and no mercy. Speaking of which, 30 Days of Night doesn’t really explain why they’re doing it. They decapitate their victims and don’t drink that much blood. And they say that they want them to believe, but they’re pretty damn intent on making sure their actions are wiped out of mankind’s history. This is one of those films where the more questions you ask, the less answers you’re going to get.

FATALITY

The rest of the horror aspects fall into the cliched flaws. There’s plenty of plot holes to be found, as well as more than enough “oh you idiot!” moments. Why Sheriff Oleson constantly forgets to carry his axe (the only practical weapon against vampires) is beyond me. 30 Days of Night‘s horror aspects also kill any of the breathtaking suspense to be had. Whenever you’re at the edge of your seat, the music starts playing, the vampire shows up, and then it’s pretty easy to know what’s going on. If you’re one of those people who can’t predict movies, that’s OK. Because 30 Days of Night will practically tell you who’s going to die next. And as with most flawed horror films, this one ends with a very dumb ending that could’ve been different had the characters acted a little more intelligent.

This is what happens when you stick your hand outside the school bus.

Despite the multitude of flaws that keep it from being a modern horror masterpiece, 30 Days of Night still has a haunting atmosphere and a psychological aspect to it that’s far too ignored in today’s torture porn horror. So if you’re in the mood for some Halloween horror, now might be the time to get some popcorn and watch 30 Days of Night.

Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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