30 Days of Night

| March 3, 2008

Directed by David Slade and self-adapted by Steve Niles from his own popular graphic novel of the same name, a clan of vampires advance upon the northernmost town of Barrow, Alaska, to hold a blood orgy during the annual month of darkness.
I was not sure what to expect of this film, after having heard such mixed reviews and having read the graphic novel. I was not surprised to find the film somewhat different from the novel. But that was to be expected, as the original is drawn in a highly stylized fashion which would be quite difficult to recreate on film. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the look of the film as a whole. It is quite stylized in its own way, and reinforces the sense of isolation felt by the inhabitants of Barrow.
The small town is both the northernmost point in the US as well as home to some very independent pipeline workers and a handful of hardy locals who provide the usual services to them. But the town is more than that. It is also comprised of families and friends, and the kind of dysfunctional groups who seek out distant, lonely places where they can be as far from the diseases of civilization as possible. In the opening scenes of the film, someone or something is slowly and methodically crippling the town by removing their cell phones, killing all the sled dogs, and further doing whatever damage possible to prevent the townspeople from calling for help or making a quick escape.
And, since it’s the eve of the beginning of the annual ‘thirty days of night,’ many locals are departing for southern areas and sunlight, since they cannot handle that much depressing darkness. The ones who remain behind are a most self-reliant bunch. Among them are the local sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his deputy, Billy (Manu Bennett). They are the ones who discover the burnt pile of cell phones in a firepit on the edge of town. Then they learn that a local couple’s huskies have been horribly slaughtered. Then a seemingly disturbed stranger (Ben Foster) wanders into town and landing at the diner, asking for raw meat, muttering vague threats and suggesting that there is more to the drop in temperature than just cold. Finally, as the darkness falls, someone attacks the old man who maintains the communications and power trailer, and everything goes to hell, literally.
I found Hartnett to be quite good in the role of stoic law enforcement leader of the small town. In fact, I’m impressed at how much he has grown as an actor over the years. It seems that every generation adds and changes the formulas of the last, and if Hartnett is to become the next generation loner anti-hero, I believe him to be a good fit. He reveals strength in his character and still shows some vulnerability; both of which are admirable qualities in any hero type. Melissa George as his estranged wife Stella did equally well and, to the writer’s credit, comes off as the tougher of the two throughout much of the film. I am always glad to see filmmakers take such a chance with the feminine character, especially since females in the animal world are often the ones who do the bulk of the hunting for the brood. Ms. George pulls off her role quite well and is a good match for Hartnett.
Danny Huston is the leader of the vampire clan. He is forced to emote through facial expression and physical presence, as the clan seems to speak some sort of archaic Russian dialect, and rarely is their dialogue translated for the viewer. Not that it is absolutely necessary; the creatures are sufficiently unwavering in their viciousness that dialogue is rendered secondary. The one other member of the cast worth mentioning is that of Mark Boone Junior, who portrays a surly loner and pipeline worker named Beau. An antagonistic relationship is set up early between Hartnett’s character and Boone’s, and it plays out to good effect as both characters must rely upon one another during the ongoing 30 day siege by the vampires.
David Slade’s prior effort was the difficult to watch Hard Candy, which introduced the viewing public to the multi-layered talents of Juno‘s Ellen Page. In this film, Slade and author/adaptor Steve Niles remain fairly close to the graphic novel while having great fun with the grisly doings of the vampire clan. Unlike some viewers, I was not bothered by the similarities between this and other vampire films. In fact, I was often reminded of John Carpenter’s excellent remake of The Thing, which dealt with a very similar situation. I really enjoyed that film and found much in 30 Days of Night to compare, favorably, with that masterwork. To my way of thinking, that is high praise.

About the Author:

Del Harvey is a co-founder of Film Monthly. He is an independent filmmaker, film director, screenwriter, and film teacher, currently living in Chicago.
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