Friday, October 19, 2007

30 Days of Night

Not having read the graphic novel, my only expectations going in to this were trailers and several postings on the Internet claiming that this is "the best vampire movie in a decade." Based on that statement and the fact that the concept seemed really cool, I was looking forward to this a fair amount. As a lead into what follows, I'll say that I both enjoyed the movie and was somewhat disappointed. Lost? I'll explain.

For those of you who may not know, 30 Days of Night takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northern most town in the U.S. It's separated from the nearest town by several hundred miles of desolate frozen landscape. Every year, owing to the town's Arctic latitude, the town experiences 30 days without sunlight. This year, however, the town gets some nasty visitors in the form of a band of hungry vampires. Now the survivors have to hid and wait until the month of darkness ends.

You'll notice I didn't say thirsty vampires. I said hungry and I meant it. If there's one thing to say about these vampires it's that they're not your grandma's vampires. The vamps in any Ann Rice novel, Blade, or even Count Dracula himself would probably be offended by the level of carnage these guys are intent on bringing down on the poor citizens of Barrow. They're not concerned with merely sucking their victim's blood. They'll rip your fucking head off to get the job done. Oh, and they're fast. There's no elegance here. No seduction or sophistication with these guys. Once you see one (if you even do see them coming) you have moments to live. It's refreshing (if you consider this level of gore refreshing) to see movie monsters become more animal and less human. It amps up the tension because you know that the characters have zero chance of survival if they're caught.

OK so this sounds like a pretty fun flick, right? Who doesn't like a little monster flick and some guts and gore, especially in October? This movie certainly delivers on that, but there's problem here. You see, 30 Days of Night isn't content to just be a monster movie and this is where the major problems of the movie come from. To start with, everything happens much to quickly. Within fifteen minutes, the shit hits the fan. Hardly anytime is spent on introducing the characters in the story.

Take Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) for instance. He's the sheriff and she has something to do with the fire marshall. The only other thing we learn about them is that they were involved somehow at some point in the past. We never learn how serious it was or why it ended. This subplot never amounts to anything and makes one wonder why they weren't together to begin with. The movie would have ended exactly the same way. The other characters are even less developed, many of them only existing to get killed off.

The other major problem is that proper time isn't taken to properly introduce the town. Much of the film deals with the characters moving from place to place as they attempt to get away from the vamps. The problem is that we have no clear idea of the town's geography. How far apart are the landmarks they describe? How are they related to one another geographically? We have no idea and so much of the character's worries about how far a distance they have to travel to get to safety fails to create any drama.

Now that I think about it, there's almost no explanation as to why in the hell people are living there in the first place. Oh, at the very end of the film we learn there's a pipeline running by the town. So there's a pipeline now? Where did that come from? Is this how they make a living? Or are they just messed up and thrive on extreme temperatures and months of darkness?

One last problem of note is the passage of time. This is supposed to happen over the course of an entire month, but it feels like a matter or hours. Only Eben grows any facial hair and the pitiful amount he grows even still calls into question how much time has actually gone by. There just isn't any feeling that these people have been hiding in attics and basements for 4 weeks.

Despite these problems, however, I did still enjoy the film and I recommend that fans of vampire movies and horror in general take the time to see this on the big screen. It's beautifully shot, with several shots throughout the film paying homage to the graphic novel. It's a good film, it just tried to be more than that and didn't quite make it.

3 stars (out of 5)


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