30 Days of Night is pretty much a siege movie with heavy elements of horror and gore. Siege movies always succeed and fail depending on whether the tension and dread built up from the beginning of the film suspends the audience’s disbelief. Siege films like The Thing and Romero’s Living Dead trilogy works well because right from the get-go we see the tension build not just on the location the cast are put in but within the besieged survivors as well. Survival becomes that much more difficult due to human frailties and an inability to work together bringing the whole group down. The monsters outside are bad enough, but sometimes it’s the survivors themselves who must share the blame.
David Slade’s (director of the excellent Hard Candy) movie does a very good job of bringing the initial tension and dread the comic brought to life in its first chapter. The story takes place in Barrow, Alaska which happens to be located within the Arctic Circle. This location allows it a very peculiar yearly event of having pitch-black night which lasts for a period of an entire month. The movie begins just as the town of Barrow prepares for this month-long prolonged night. Most of the town decide to move down south for the month where the night doesn’t last as long, but enough stay in Barrow to give it a semblance of life and activity.
The build-up of the characters in 30 Days of Night marks one of the weaknesses in the film. There’s barely much characterization in distinguishing one Barrow, Alaskan from another. The lack in character development from all the characters whether human or vampire doesn’t invest the film with anyone we want to see make it out through the night and into dawn. Even Danny Huston, a very underrated and overly capable actor in past films fails to elevate his lead vampire character Marlowe beyond it’s genre trappings. Known only as The Stranger in the credits, Ben Foster’s Renfield-like character edges between caricature and genuine creepiness in his performance. Foster knows he’s in a genre movie and has fun with the character. He’s the only one to truly take on his character and roll with it.
I now get to the subject of the vampires themselves. Most vampire movies seem enamored in portraying the vampire as some sort of seductive, fashion-obsessed, or in the case of the Anne Rice-type anachronistic in their dress, with an unnatural immortality they either live as hedonistically as possible or bemoan their cursed existence. Then there’s the more recent trend that Twilight has brought into the vampire mythology and it’s not good. There’s never been a true portrayal of the vampire as a pure, hunger-driven monster with an appetite to match their status as one of folklore and legend’s top-tier boogeymen. Slade goes for speed and agility in his vampires instead of hypnotizing and mesmerizing their victims. The vampires in this movie owes much to the frenetic and over-amped infecteds of 28 Days Later.
The attack itself and the subsequent siege worked well enough in the early going. There were some great overhead shots of the town’s people losing it’s fight during the initial feeding frenzy as the camera shoots the scene high overhead. The only thing Slade had a misstep in terms of the siege itself was after those first couple of nights. The rest of the 30 days didn’t seem to show enough desperation on the faces and bodies of the last few survivors. Really, the only way the audience even knew a couple weeks have passed were the caption telling them how many days into the month-long night has passed. I think with some better editing and a better sense of structure in the middle section of the movie to show time actually progressing the movie would’ve been better on so many levels.
All in all, 30 Days of Night was just good enough to be a fun watch. The premise itself was original and put a new spin on the vampire genre that has rarely been tapped. The performances were pretty average with no one bringing the whole film down with a misstep performance or raising the bar with a great one. The final product had a chance to be something great, but just ends up being a good and original take on the vampire story with elements of Night of the Living Dead.