REVIEWED: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT

One of the many thirsty vamps.

David Slade’s adaptation of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s cult series of horror comics is a curiosity, a film that is certainly uneven, but also a film that swings from cliché-riddled fare to moderately enjoyable shtick. The opening shots, which convey the epic setting of Alaska in the most alluring fashion, instantly remind one of John Carpenter’s fantastic remake of The Thing, and provide the hope that Slade can make the most of the snow-kissed environment, just as Carpenter did twenty-five years ago.

It’s simply unfortunate that the film is so fickle by its own nature – the protagonist, Eben Oleson (Harnett), is the morally unambiguous Sherriff of the Alaskan town in question, a man far too certain of his own prissy ideals to invite any interest whatsoever. It’s not as though one is asking for an anti-hero character either, as that would be just as unsatisfying, but Harnett’s character (as well as most of the other characters) lacks depth, and we never really get to know (and therefore empathise with) him. If the “goody-two-shoes” ploy wasn’t repugnant enough, Harnett’s rather alienating, uninspired acting only reflects how wooden his character is.

As a band of vampires descend upon the quaint town, 30 Days of Night becomes a tiresome exponent of horror film stock elements – the fake-out scares, the red herrings, the strained love story – it’s all there in great, despicable abundance. To further ridicule the viewer, the trite love story is interspersed amongst the painfully-slow moving plot. Even as the first human is slaughtered by the vamps, viewers, and moreover, gore-hounds, are cheated out of any excitement through hackneyed editing and antagonists shrouded in darkness. Hell, Slade even threw the “let’s have the enemy pace past the foreground whilst our protagonist, in the background, fails to notice” technique in there.

It isn’t long before Ben Foster (simply credited as “the stranger”) appears on the scene, and is, in a wildly preposterous scene, promptly arrested for attempting to order some fish, of all things. Regardless of how much Foster impressed in 3:10 to Yuma, he, and the lines he’s given, are guffaw-inducing, and he even spouts a classic crazy-loon bad omen for good, cheesy measure.

Things eventually do get moving, and what Slade captures best perhaps is the sense of community among the residents of the town, although hasn’t the time to dwell on it before the beasts begin slaughtering the town, again, rather frustratingly disguised by deceptive lighting and cinematography. That said, the score is appropriately loud and brash, and certainly adds to the erratic and frenetic atmosphere of the action scenes. As negative as this review appears, the film is full of subtle touches such as this, including deciding to have the vampires speak in their native tongue, subtitling their verbiage – it’s something different, and it works.

Scenes of rancid dialogue and cutaway deaths fill a large portion of the middle of the film, accompanied by a largely disinteresting survival story that, when it’s not tiresome, borders on ludicrous, such as our protagonist’s encounter with an infected child. Furthermore, the film seems to take large leaps in its chronology, and before we know it, it’s the eighteenth day of the thirty-day blackout, when I hadn’t a clue that they’d moved past the third. Ah, yes, the most logical explanation is that this is a Grindhouse film and it’s that dreaded missing reel gimmick again…No? Shucks.

One must return to Harnett’s character – the man is a walking cliché – for instance, as another character seeks to take on the vampires in a last stand, Harnett prohibits him, insisting that he do it instead. Throw in a sacrificial death and one of the surviving members becoming infected and you’ve got what’s nothing more than a bog-standard monster flick.

Only in the final third of the film does anything really hit home – the action pieces become more elaborate, and the violence more graphic. In fact, I felt genuine surprise and disgust as one poor individual had his neck dented in by an axe, with Slade down-right refusing to cut away.

As both sides prepare for their last stands amid a fire-fuelled finale, our heroes comes to the chilling realisation of the gravity of their situation, and both this, as well as the epic imagery of the fire and snow, is a nice hark back to Carpenter’s aforementioned film. Naturally, the finesse of that film isn’t present here, but it’s not a bad attempt.

The real kicker for 30 Days of Night comes with its ending – in one sense, it’s completely ridiculous, and will invite collective sighs among many cinemagoers. The subsequent payoff, however, is a smart, counter-Hollywood move that, as someone who hasn’t read the comics, genuinely surprised and entertained me, and raised my opinion of the picture by a considerable amount.

30 Days of Night is a deeply flawed, unoriginal film, but manages to rectify a sizable portion of its foibles in the final third of the film. At first, the antagonists are cheaply cloaked from our view, their vicious attacks shown only in brief, yet as the film progresses, Slade ratchets both the action and graphic violence up, and despite the disinteresting and two-dimensional characters, delivers some surprises along the way. Slade’s film does little to shake up the horror genre, but is purportedly faithful to the comics, and that should be enough for fans of both the source material and the genre in general.

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