Movie Review: 30 Days of Night
By Matthew Huntley
November 17, 2007
30 Days of Night is an awesome movie to look at but a lame one to think about. It's about a small town in Alaska under attack by a race of vampires. Every year in this town, called Barrow, the sun sets for about a month, which gives the vampires plenty of time to feast on people's flesh, drink blood and wreak havoc, all without ever being seen by anyone outside the town.
The ads proclaim the movie is based on the "groundbreaking" graphic novel written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. Granted I've never read or looked through the novel, but if the movie is any indication, "groundbreaking" is perhaps not the most accurate word to describe it. After all, what is so groundbreaking about vampires who move with swift agility, possess great strength and scratch and eat people to death? Is this really such a major departure from typical vampire mythology?
Leading the human resistance are Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), who was just about to leave her husband before the sun set. Given the nature of this movie, did the filmmakers really believe we'd be interested in Eben and Stella's marriage problems? It's not like any of the characters are developed beyond one of two types: those who live and those who die.
The plot sets in motion when a stranger (Ben Foster, who gives the movie's only interesting performance) walks into town and starts cutting off Barrow's means of communication. He steals everybody's cell phones and kills all the sled dogs. When Oleson arrests The Stranger, the bearded man simply mutters, "They're coming."
Then the vampires arrive and start killing people. The survivors huddle into an attic and attempt to wait out the darkness as we get the usual testosterone-driven conflicts from a group of stock movie characters. Each person's job is to either incite conflict, break up fights, or be physically torn to pieces. The screenplay doesn't allow them any other option. I think it would have been more interesting if the movie had become more about these people's boredom and anxiety toward their present situation and less about the vampires outside. It might have made for a compelling study in human nature - the idea of people being forced to stay quiet, with little food and no ability to bathe. This would drive some people mad and would have made a decent thriller.
One aspect of the script I liked was the length at which it takes people who have been bitten by the vampires to transform into one. In one scene, a character already knows he or she is changing and gives the rest of the group a fair warning, which leads to the movie's best dramatic moment. Director David Slade makes good use of off-screen sound as a way to build tension and poignancy.
The movie also benefits from Paul D. Austerberry's production design and Jo Willems' cinematography, which give the movie an ominous, dreary tone. They do their job of making the town look uattractive and cold. The actors appear as if they're really freezing on the refrigerated sets and in this case, it's okay that the sets look like artificial since that's how snow tends to make things look.
But the movie's cool imagery and innovative design aren't enough to sustain its near two-hour running time. There's too little story and character development. Even the vampires themselves, led by Marlow (Danny Huston), aren't very stimulating. They speak in a pseudo-Latin dialogue and we know very little about them.
Judging by their wardrobe, it seems each vampire used to be a normal human being, but if that's the case, how long has this race been around? One vampire comments to another they should have come to Barrow "centuries ago". Okay, then where were they the rest of the time, and where are they going after Barrow? Where do they live the other 11 months out of the year? Do they possess memories from when they used to be humans? I'm not saying all villains need a backstory or even a motivation for their behavior, but the screenplay doesn't give us much to chew on to find these creatures engaging beyond their makeup. Maybe the novel explains more.
The movie is slick, well-photographed and eerie in terms of its production, but I was never invested in the characters or the plot. The acting is wooden, the violence mediocre and the final showdown between vampire and mankind is uninspired and mostly standard. I was pleased the closing shot takes a somewhat courageous turn by showing us what it does, but the rest of the movie is far from "groundbreaking."