30 Days of Night

30 Days of Night PosterThere are lots of ways to come up with a story. One of them is to take a few disparate bits of fact and folklore and combine them in a logical but previously-unexplored way. For example, on the folklore side, vampires possess human intelligence, prey upon humans at night, and are vulnerable to sunlight. On the factual side, there are places in the extreme north which go weeks at a time without ever seeing the sun — literally without the sun ever being visible in the sky due to the tilt of the Earth.

Based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles, published by IDW Comics, 30 Days of Night puts those two things together in a tale centered on the town of Barrow, Alaska.

Barrow is a small town under the best of circumstances, and it’s about to become much smaller. Every year many of its residents fly out as its annual month of darkness approaches. The few that remain behind are largely cut off from the rest of the world; the few roads are impassable during the winter, flying is dangerous. The only way out is to use sled dogs. Only telephones provide any contact with the outside world.

And on the eve of the month of night, somebody ensures that Barrow will be even more isolated this year, systematically taking out every resource and utility that could be used to reach or contact other towns. Soon the town sheriff and fire marshal (Josh Hartnett and Melissa George) find themselves having to band together the few town survivors as a gang of vampires begins to slaughter everyone.

It’s a simple premise and an effective one. In post-Nosferatu vampire stories, the sun has typically provided a limit on the terrors of the vampire, a safe haven for its human prey and hunters. Niles’ story takes away that safety net and all others, putting the advantages firmly on the side of the vampires. The bewilderment and fear of the town survivors is palpable. A mild amount of romantic tension — the sheriff and fire marshal are an estranged couple — merely serves as counterpoint, adding an additional tone to the story without reducing the dramatic tension.

There are, however, a couple of missteps in director David Slade’s choice of presentation for the film, which decrease the tension in the film. The first is the hyper-frenetic fast-forward shaky-cam used whenever the vampires attack. It is presumably meant to be exciting, but it’s merely disorienting and vertigo-inducing. The second is the decision to have the vampires speak in a constructed language and have their speech subtitled. While it perhaps makes the vampires seem more alien, it’s an unnecessary and distracting choice. Danny Huston’s speeches and asides as the head vampire would be more interesting if I could understand him directly instead of reading half a sentence and then waiting for the other half to show up. And as the vampires clearly understand English and show themselves to be capable of speaking it in a couple small lines, there’s simply no significant benefit to using the constructed language.

But these flaws are not fatal ones. The film kept me engaged from start to finish. Its lead characters are easy to believe in and root for. And the menace of the vampires is also easy to believe in. It’s not easy to come up with a new twist on an old theme, and doing so doesn’t guarantee a good story, but 30 Days of Night succeeds.

Rating: 4 Pumpkins

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About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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5 Responses to 30 Days of Night

  1. le0pard13 says:

    I was surprised how much this engaged me. Stands up to repeated viewing, too.

    • I wasn’t really expecting much out of it either, except for it having a decent reputation. I don’t think I’d personally go out of my way to watch it again, but it was certainly worth watching the one time.

  2. Spikor says:

    The clerk at the LCBS recommended I look at this back in ’02. I flipped through whatever issue was on the stands, and it didn’t grab me. I loved the premise as described, but I remember I opened to a page that was nothing but panels of Nosferatu looking heads, and the lack of colour just made it look bland.

    Admittedly, I was only in the store to pick up the current issue of 200x MotU and some HeroClix. I wasn’t really looking for new titles at the time. (Same thing happened with Issue 1 of The Walking Dead. 2 years later I discovered how badly I missed that boat).

    Anyway, when the movie was coming out I was actually excited, because I thought the premise would lend itself really well to a film. Turns out the same thing happened, though. The trailers made the movie look really bland to me, and despite having heard from several people I worked with that it was surprisingly good, I never did get around to it.

    Great review. Next time I’m flipping through Netflix and I see this one, I might actually queue it up.

    • I totally understand that. The comic never looked interesting to me, and the promos for this — especially the poster — do not do a good job of selling it. But the film itself is actually pretty decent.

  3. Pingback: Halloween Haunters 2015 Roundup | Morgan on Media

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