Vampire tale has considerable 'bite', despite some minor reservations...
CAST: Josh Hartnett-Melissa George-Ben Foster-Danny Huston-Mark Boone
Directed by David Slade
Based on the Graphic Novel by Steve Niles
SYNOPSIS: Producer Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, The Grudge, Spider-Man) brings audiences the terrifying thriller ‘30 Days of Night’, set in the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, in the extreme northern hemisphere, which is plunged into complete darkness annually for an entire month. When most of the inhabitants head south for the winter, a mysterious group of strangers appear: bloodthirsty vampires, ready to take advantage of the uninterrupted darkness to feed on the town's residents. As the night wears on, Barrow's Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), and an ever-shrinking group of survivors must do anything they can to last until daylight.
OPENING TAKE: The first half-hour of the vampire opus ’30 Days of Night’ so effectively sets up its fascinating premise that the remaining hour-plus running time is practically fated to disappoint. The aforementioned prologue served as a joyous reminder of such classics as John Carpenter’s 1982 ‘The Thing’ and the Tobe Hooper directed TV-version of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’. Personally, it effectively mixes two of my favorite fright-film atmospheres, that of hopeless isolation and grim desolation, while building a sense of foreboding I haven’t felt since the first two ‘Alien’ films. That said, once the enemy is openly identified and the mass killings begin (however wonderfully grisly a few of them may be), a heavy sense of ‘Déjà vu’ ensues, as in ‘haven’t I seen this before’ in countless undead films? While act one attempted, rather successfully, to effectively wipe away all the ancient cinematic cobwebs associated with the vampire mystique, acts two and three were simply unable to maintain the same level of intensity and originality.
Plot-holes abound, the most glaring involving the vampire pack’s inexplicable inability to locate the tiny township’s remaining survivors over a thirty-day span within such limited hiding places. I mean, hey, there’s only so many places a body can squeeze into undetected while inhabiting a town possessing exactly one general store, right?
CAST: Kudos to Ben Foster (the mysterious ‘stranger’), Mark Boone (the atypical ‘anti-hero’) and Danny Huston (ol’ King Fang himself) for enriching their rather limited roles with a level of zest and gleeful insanity far beyond that of Josh Harnett’s stoic leading man and Melissa George’s equally handicapped heroine. I definitely could’ve done without the ‘estranged couple’ subplot, replaced instead by perhaps a bit of background info on the blood-sucking pack or even the motivation behind Ben Foster’s ‘Renfield-like’ character (Foster can currently be seen playing a similarly smarmy/psychotic role in the brilliant ‘3:10 to Yuma’). Grade – B
THE LOOK: You can practically feel the chill from the warmth of your theater seat. The cinematography is outstanding-the special effects top-notch. Grade – A
SCARES: Alas, the veteran horror-maven will find few save a handful of the ‘jump-spook’ variety, as the constant volley of vampire attacks grow a bit monotonous after a while, though a sense of tension-laden desperation does exist throughout, especially in early scenes. Grade – B-
GORE FACTOR: Delivers in spades, though there are early scenes that tend to purposely avoid showing too much as to perhaps later more effectively shock the audience. Grade – B+
CLOSING TAKE: The film’s ending, featuring a brief but exhilarating skirmish between Harnett’s brave but battered sheriff and the lead vampire, is suitably fitting considering what had transpired before, and (thankfully) avoids the commercially sappy conclusion Hollywood seems to thrive upon, while also avoiding the equally dreaded ‘lets set up the inevitable sequel’ pitfall. Grade- B
All in all, I feel compelled to grade ’30 Days’ by the sum of its parts and not entirely as a whole. Thusly, while part one receives an enthusiastic thumbs up, the remaining two-thirds suffer greatly by comparison. Still, as vampire flicks go, it’s as original as we’re apt to see anytime soon.
OVERALL GRADE – A solid B