Vampires Done Right in 30 Days of Night
First, it’s important to address the nuances of a vampire movie. Dracula is the most filmed fictional character, and the vampire genre has had both A-list films and Z-List direct-to-DVD releases. Everyone seems to want to reinvent the undead for the cinema, and in 30 Days of Night, Director David Slade gives the audience his version of the graphic novel.
Slade, who directed Hard Candy does an admirable job in turning the focus away from the vampires and more to the survivors of the assault on Barrow, Alaska…where the sun sets for 30 days and a pack of vampires led by the creepy Danny Huston. Two sentences do not provide adequate coverage of what the movie is about, and if I cared truly about the over-all plot, it would go something like this: Vampires send lone stranger to sabotage town. Vampires turn town into personal Denny’s, while survivors hope to hide and wait out the 30 days of night.
So, what makes this movie work for me?
Well, there are a number of qualities about this movie that make it stand out in a genre dominated by the current round of remakes and torture. First, the take on the vampires is that at no point is there a real attempt to explain them. The vampires come, feed, and hunt the survivors. The Survivors meanwhile are left to their own devices to figure out what’s actually happening, and how can they survive against a predator that won’t stay down after a few shots. It’s pretty straightforward, playing a bit like Aliens meets Night of the Living Dead. Slade keeps the pacing and camera work unique, with several key moments that are unique in a horror film, such as a sweeping wide camera angle shot to show the devastation in real time. The use of psychological horror is paired excellently with the gore, making things seem more horrific than they really are, and in some cases, the violence is over so quick you have to do a double take to know what it is you just witnessed.
The acting isn’t bad and specifically both Danny Huston as the vampiric leader Marlow, and the mysterious stranger played by Ben Foster stand out. I barely recognized Ben Foster, who played Angel in X-Men: the Last Stand. It’s such a transformation, not just through make-up but by Foster into a Renfield-like character that is the most startling aspect. Josh Harnett seems to handle the role of reluctant hero well, and there is pathos as well as regret in the actions he must choose as the sheriff and leader of the survivors. The understated relationship between Harnett’s character and soon-to-be-separated wife played by Melissa George is at times a bit hard to believe, but then again, you’re watching a film about vampirism.
The third element that makes 30DON work is the idea of taking a vampire film and trying to find new ground. Clearly, the vampire pack has rules, but we as the viewers are not privy to them. The Vampires speak their own language, possess their own customs, and only through subtitles can you follow what’s going on. The territory of a few single survivors holding off vampires is not new; From Dusk ‘til Dawn covered it as a crime noir film, Omega Man covered it as an apocalypse disaster film, and Life Force covered it as an alien invasion. The difference is that unlike the other movies, 30DON tries to make the film connect to Joe Average, by showing the sorts of people you might know in a small town, focusing details and attention to the smallest areas, from the use of photographs to what music would be in a person’s collection. The connection to reality is the thing that sets 30DON different than other vampire movies, and ultimately, adds to the suspense.
30DON is not a perfect film, and a large leap in logic is required to truly get into it. In addition, the direction does force attention to the gore and action sequences, which move by too quickly at times to track. The acting can be a bit wooden from the supporting characters, and it is difficult to maintain an accurate idea of who is left and who isn’t. Further exposition on the relationships of the characters would have been nice, but that’s life…you do not always know everything, and that is in essence the greatest strength of 30DON: The answers are not always as clear, nor are the choices.
While clearly not the genre defining film some have made it to be, 30DON remains a fresh take on cinema’s first monsters.
Mark’s rating: Definitely Netflix-it, Possible see it in the theater, possibly buy it on DVD
Mark’s Rating System:
Oh My God see it in the Theater, Buy it on DVD
Definitely Cool, See it in the Theater, possibly buy it on DVD
Definitely Netflix-it, Possible see it in the theater, possibly buy it on DVD
Possibly Netflix-it, wait for cable, not worth buying on DVD
Wait for TV version, Never Buy it on DVD
Avoid it on TV, return it if purchased as a gift for DVD
Ignore it ever occurred, deny it ever existed.
Written by Mark in November of 2007. Last edited September 2014.