The roughest, toughest, and most novel vampire stories you're likely to come across.
Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
My review from last October, followed by some "second-viewing" thoughts and a look at the DVD extras!
The vampire has been a powerfully tenacious movie villain for the past century or so, and every once in a while there comes a new flick that adds some much-needed creativity to the classic creature. Veteran of hundreds of movies both half-decent and entirely rotten, the vampire doesn't get to star in all that many "good films," but hell, here's one: David Slade's 30 Days of Night, which is based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles, and is one of the roughest, toughest, and most novel vampire stories you're likely to come across.
Here's the concept that's so simple it's almost genius: An Alaskan town (that's about to be cast into a month's worth of moonlight) is beset by vampires. The surviving humans must do all they can to survive the month ... meanwhile, the vicious monsters are enjoying their own ice-cool salad bar across the town of Barrow, Alaska. And that's pretty much it, plot-wise, and let's hear it for "high-concept" ideas that are as cleverly simple in theory as they are ferociously cool in execution. Because I may just be on a "horror high" right now, but I'm thinking 30 Days of Night is the coolest vampire movie since Near Dark. (And Near Dark came out 21 years ago!)
Our hero is the young-but-tough local sheriff (Josh Hartnett), who does all he can to A) figure out who these freakish invaders are, B) save as many townsfolk as possible, and C) protect not only his little brother, but also his estranged wife! Various Barrow-ites bite it in exceedingly graphic manner, but that's not to say that Niles and his screenwriters don't have a few unexpected surprises up their sleeve. And visually ... the thing's an awesomely overcast, darkly beautiful, and periodically explicit piece of horror.
It's partly an action flick, but mainly it's a grimly lovely piece of 'survival horror' that takes place in a uniquely oppressive setting. Horror-makers often have to go to great pains to create a 'no escape' setting, and the 30 Day of Night creators do a damn fine job of it: If "tonight" lasted for 720 hours, what would YOU have to do to survive a massive vampire attack? (Oh, and it's also 20 below outside.) The "gimmick" provides a premise that feels intense and immediate, even when we're NOT dealing with the frequent bloodsucker attacks. And while 30 Days of Night contains a few characters, plot points, and moments of mayhem that may seem a bit conventional and familiar, Slade keeps the flick chugging along so slickly ... you won't really mind.
The stars of the film -- Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster -- deliver some fine work, but the REAL stars of 30 Days of Night are the creatures. Let's just say these aren't your grandfather's vampires. Feral, vicious, and almost animalistic in behavior, Niles' vampires are the real (scary) deal. No capes, smirks, or sex appeal here; just a bunch of near-invincible humanoid beasts who crave human blood -- and have located one awesome town in which to feast. (All the vampires are suitably icky, but Danny Huston is quite disturbingly effective as the ferocious "head vamp.")
This one's a real treat for the horror fans. 30 Days of Night is a blissfully mean-spirited and aggressively creepy terror tale, and one that's not content to simply rest on its one good concept. And hats off to Sony for not softening the blows; 30 Days of Night is a powerfully R-rated experience -- and I'm thrilled to see a big-time Hollywood studio approach a respected horror property so seriously.
Thoughts after a second visit: Just as strong, if not even more enthusiastic. One thing I noticed this time is how much of an ORDEAL the last hour of the movie is, and I don't mean that in a bad way. The crises keep coming pretty fast and furious, and (again) I'm really impressed by how grim and creepy the whole thing is. Ferocious, too! For a studio product, 30 Days of Night sure does LINGER on some of its more unpleasant activities. That's not praise or criticism, really, just an observation. Even if the movie ends on a sequence borrowed from Blade 2 (or did Del Toro borrow it from Steve Niles??), there's still a big, meaty meal of a horror flick here. Those who gripe about PG-13 horror should find themselves more than satisfied.
Regarding the DVD, it's not a full-bore special edition, but there's still some solid stuff to be found. The film is presented in a very slick anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer, with audio (English or French) in Dolby Digital 5.1. (Subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. And here's a cool addition: There's also a subtitle track for the audio commentary. Neato.) Under "featurettes" you'll find eight behind-the-scenes pieces that equal out to about 50 minutes total. The headings are: Pre-production, Building Barrow, The Look, Blood Guts & The Nasty #@$&!, Stunts, The Vampire, Night Shoots, and Casting. Very good stuff here, mostly candid and on-the-fly conversations. Also included is a surprisingly strong audio commentary with producer Rob Tapert and lead actors Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. I say "surprisingly" because I'm always a bit skeptical when the director's not included on a chat-track, but the three participants do a fine job of keeping the info flowing. Closing out the platter is a whole bunch of Sony trailers episode one of an animated horror series called Blood+ (I believe), which looks pretty wild!