Thursday, October 18, 2007
It’s official. The bar for vampire films has officially been raised. David Slade’s 30 Days of Night is a savage blood-letting of a film, ripping the throat out and feeding on the lifeblood of the genre itself in a brutal, R-rated horror movie that serves up exactly what it sets out to deliver, with a particularly juicy and rare presentation.
The story is simple: it’s almost sunset in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Each year, the town endures one night that lasts a solid 30 days. Most of the residents make their way to warmer climes. Those that stay batten down the hatches and wait for the morning light. But this time, things are different, because there’s a creepy stranger in town (Ben Foster, who creeped out audiences earlier this year in 3:10 to Yuma), who has systematically murdered sled dogs, destroyed cell phone towers, and essentially cut off the town’s inhabitants from the outside world. When sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) throws him in jail, the stranger says he’d better watch out, because his friends will be along soon.
He’s half right. Yes, they’re coming, but no, they aren’t his friends. While he is a mere mortal, his compadres are a freaky group of ancient vampires, drawn to Alaska by the lack of sunlight and an insatiable hunger for human blood. These aren’t the glamorous vamps of the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt variety. They are well-dressed, but have an uneven sense of personal hygiene, showing no interest in cleaning the blood around their mouths: bright scarlet against long-dead, pasty white skin. Humans are nothing more than prey, and they are the hunters. Many seem to be without language, communicating with feral-like screams. And when they roll into Barrow, it ain’t pretty. These are merciless creatures, rampaging through the population, leaving chaos and bloody snow in their wake. Their hapless victims have but one option: to hide and hope that the sun comes up before the vampires find them.
The violence in 30 Days of Night is savage and unrelenting, but it is also well shot, managing to be both tense and exciting. Basically, you’ve never seen a vampire feed quite like this before. It’s harsh and nasty, the sort of deep soul kiss you don’t want to be on the other end of.
Director Slade’s previous movie, the Internet-stalker film Hard Candy, was a study in creepiness on a much smaller scale. 30 Days of Night retains the “Ick” factor, and the director, who is clearly a talent, is getting a much bigger bang for his bigger budget. Hartnett hasn’t had a good film in some time, but he is well-suited to the role of the town’s protector, and his relationship with Melissa George, his estranged wife who missed the last flight out, gives the film an emotional anchor. There are the occasional clichés, but it is a vampire movie, after all. And unlike the current crop of serial killer thrillers that pass for horror films today, 30 Days of Night is truly horrifying.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT ( * * * ½ )
Directed by David Slade • Starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior and Danny Huston • R, 113 min • At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.