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Rock Fist Way Down

"30 Days of Night" feels as long as its title

by Eric Melin on October 18, 2007

in Print Reviews

The new horror flick “30 Days of Night,” based on the comic book series of the same name, is one of those simple, high concept movies you can explain to your friends right away. In a tiny Alaskan oil town, it stays dark for 30 days out of the year. Bloodthirsty vampires come to feast, and there’s no sunlight to kill them—great idea.

Unfortunately, this movie must have been greenlit on idea alone, because the screenwriters (all three of them) left everybody else out in the cold on this one. Director David Slade, who showed such promise with the twisted psychological thriller “Hard Candy” two years ago, shoots the movie with style to spare, but cannot muster an ounce of suspense. What’s more, “30 Days” feels every bit as long as its title.

josh hartnett 30 days of night horrorAfter a brief introduction to the blandest of characters, including young Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his separated wife Stella Oleson (Melissa George), a stranger (Ben Foster, the only actor having fun in this entire film) is jailed who appears to be some kind of harbinger. He knows something of the mysterious killings around town, and is biding time until his masters’ arrival. This obvious lift from the “Dracula” myth still works wonders. For awhile, it seems as though certain doom is descending upon Barrow, Alaska, and the mood will blanket the entire picture.

Slade uses the “Jaws” template of only giving you tantalizing, quick shots of the monster at the beginning. These vampires are predatory beasts who move along like blurs in the background. You can never quite focus on them, and they are always shrouded in shadow. The director removes frames from the shots to make their movement quicker and more spasmodic than real life. A heaping helping of lightning-fast editing and non-diagetic sound effects (like a foreboding, repetitious machine noise) emphasize their strength and power rather than the gory details of the kill.

When the vampires—who speak their own Eastern European-sounding language and are subtitled for our pleasure—finally overrun the town, it is an impressive sequence. They are revealed to be unstoppable cat-like creatures with upturned eyes, cheekbones and jaws and an ear-piercing banshee wail. Led by Danny Huston, who is a total mouth breather, they toy with humans like insects with their legs removed and then pounce at will, feasting on their flesh. One shocking aerial shot reveals blood-red shotgun blasts and spurting necks on the all-white background of the city’s snowed-in streets.

Kudos to everyone involved with the art direction and cinematography on “30 Days of Night.” Bravo—you did your jobs exceedingly well. If only the movie were a short film. Once the Olesons and a small band of survivors hole up in an attic to wait out the attack (what else are these vamps doing for 30 days if they can’t find people in a house?), two things keep happening again and again until the movie finally ends well over an hour later.

30 days of night vampires hustonFirst, we get to know the survivors. What a treat. The clichés in “30 Days” are so overused that they haven’t worked for 30 years. Everybody’s trapped inside, but old Grandpa goes stir crazy and has to go outside. It gives someone the opportunity to go out and die, and it gives our couple the chance for a weak parallel to hang their “who cares?” romance on. When his son goes out to save silly ol’ Gramps, Hartnett actually says to his wife, “The things you do to save your family. We were like that once.”

These characters are so boring that when one is bitten and they turn, we don’t feel any sympathy. We don’t feel anything. Like a bad slasher pic, some of these scenes actually elicited laughter during the screening I saw—not good for a movie with absolutely no sense of humor. (Come to think of it, there was another movie this year with stylized violence, a poor script, and no sense of humor called “300.” ) The writers also think we are so dumb (or maybe asleep), that the characters speak really obvious plot points out loud as if we didn’t already understand them.

Secondly, Slade completely sells out his opening “Jaws” strategy by showing the vampires so much that they aren’t scary anymore. He then amps up the gore factor to an extreme degree. (At least in “300” the decapitations took only one swipe of the axe!) The bloodsuckers get way too much screen time and become parodies of the fright that they inspired just a half an hour before. They don’t even give Huston anything cool to say. Where’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when you need her? The big baddies on that show were always smart-alecky and intimidating at the same time.

I felt like the Sheriff, trapped in one scene in an attacked vehicle being turned upside-down from behind. My responsibility as a professional critic forced me to stay through the grueling end of “30 Days of Night,” but the movie never moved forward. The same conflict over and over is not frightening. Once it collapses under the weight of its own preposterousness and lack of suspense, it doesn’t matter how many cool-looking vampires screech like feral beasts—the novel idea of the movie has already lost all its blood.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 4:53 am

Say it isn’t so Eric! Oh no! Nice stab at 300 though. Penis stab that is. Amirite?

Reply

2 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 4:53 am

Say it isn’t so Eric! Oh no! Nice stab at 300 though. Penis stab that is. Amirite?

Reply

3 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 4:53 am

Say it isn’t so Eric! Oh no! Nice stab at 300 though. Penis stab that is. Amirite?

Reply

4 Phil October 19, 2007 at 9:25 am

This is pretty depressing. I was mildly looking forward to seeing this, since it seems to be getting some decent buzz, but unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with you more often than not. Fucking jerk.

Reply

5 Phil October 19, 2007 at 9:25 am

This is pretty depressing. I was mildly looking forward to seeing this, since it seems to be getting some decent buzz, but unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with you more often than not. Fucking jerk.

Reply

6 Phil October 19, 2007 at 9:25 am

This is pretty depressing. I was mildly looking forward to seeing this, since it seems to be getting some decent buzz, but unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with you more often than not. Fucking jerk.

Reply

7 Eric Melin October 19, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Sorry to ruin your day. If you leave after the first 30 minutes, it’s a pretty great buildup. That way you can write your own movie. Look at it as an exercise! A lot of people are pretty excited about this movie. I’ll bet it has a big opening weekend, then falls real short the next week after bad buzz…

Reply

8 Eric Melin October 19, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Sorry to ruin your day. If you leave after the first 30 minutes, it’s a pretty great buildup. That way you can write your own movie. Look at it as an exercise! A lot of people are pretty excited about this movie. I’ll bet it has a big opening weekend, then falls real short the next week after bad buzz…

Reply

9 Eric Melin October 19, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Sorry to ruin your day. If you leave after the first 30 minutes, it’s a pretty great buildup. That way you can write your own movie. Look at it as an exercise! A lot of people are pretty excited about this movie. I’ll bet it has a big opening weekend, then falls real short the next week after bad buzz…

Reply

10 Phil October 19, 2007 at 1:52 pm

I think I was just excited that it was the first vampire movie to come out in recent memory that didn’t integrate martial arts and high-tech weaponry into its story (Blade, Underworld, Van Helsing, etc). For Christ’s sake, vampires are supposed to be evil, undead creatures that kill people, not anti-heroes that engage in Matrix-esque brawls with one another. I guess it takes more than simply rejecting a new cliche and reverting to an old one to make a good vampire movie.

Reply

11 Phil October 19, 2007 at 1:52 pm

I think I was just excited that it was the first vampire movie to come out in recent memory that didn’t integrate martial arts and high-tech weaponry into its story (Blade, Underworld, Van Helsing, etc). For Christ’s sake, vampires are supposed to be evil, undead creatures that kill people, not anti-heroes that engage in Matrix-esque brawls with one another. I guess it takes more than simply rejecting a new cliche and reverting to an old one to make a good vampire movie.

Reply

12 Phil October 19, 2007 at 1:52 pm

I think I was just excited that it was the first vampire movie to come out in recent memory that didn’t integrate martial arts and high-tech weaponry into its story (Blade, Underworld, Van Helsing, etc). For Christ’s sake, vampires are supposed to be evil, undead creatures that kill people, not anti-heroes that engage in Matrix-esque brawls with one another. I guess it takes more than simply rejecting a new cliche and reverting to an old one to make a good vampire movie.

Reply

13 Neil Miller October 22, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Did we see the same film? I have to respectfully disagree. ’30 Days of Night’ was a brutal, unrelenting thriller. David Slade’s ability to build tension in a film that takes place over the course of a month is sensational. The performances were strong, with Ben Foster standing out as one of the creepiest characters in recent cinematic history. It was the first Vampire movie in a long time that doesn’t make love to vampires; they were raw, unsympathetic killers and the entire tone of the film follows suit. ‘Night’ is one of the best films of the year, regardless of genre, and certainly the best horror flick of ’07. Hands down.

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14 Neil Miller October 22, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Did we see the same film? I have to respectfully disagree. ’30 Days of Night’ was a brutal, unrelenting thriller. David Slade’s ability to build tension in a film that takes place over the course of a month is sensational. The performances were strong, with Ben Foster standing out as one of the creepiest characters in recent cinematic history. It was the first Vampire movie in a long time that doesn’t make love to vampires; they were raw, unsympathetic killers and the entire tone of the film follows suit. ‘Night’ is one of the best films of the year, regardless of genre, and certainly the best horror flick of ’07. Hands down.

Reply

15 Neil Miller October 22, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Did we see the same film? I have to respectfully disagree. ’30 Days of Night’ was a brutal, unrelenting thriller. David Slade’s ability to build tension in a film that takes place over the course of a month is sensational. The performances were strong, with Ben Foster standing out as one of the creepiest characters in recent cinematic history. It was the first Vampire movie in a long time that doesn’t make love to vampires; they were raw, unsympathetic killers and the entire tone of the film follows suit. ‘Night’ is one of the best films of the year, regardless of genre, and certainly the best horror flick of ’07. Hands down.

Reply

16 Eric Melin October 23, 2007 at 12:45 am

Neil-

We must not have. Where Slade succeeded in “Hard Candy” to create tension with only two characters in a room, I was amazed that “30 Days” had none. I agree with you that Foster was fun to watch, as was Huston for about half an hour, but that’s about it. The townspeople had nothing to do, and Hartnett looked scared, but that love story was laughable. I will also agree with you that it was brutal in its violence, and unrelenting in that it tried to cram the same nonsensical idea down our throats for a full hour.

Reply

17 Eric Melin October 23, 2007 at 12:45 am

Neil-

We must not have. Where Slade succeeded in “Hard Candy” to create tension with only two characters in a room, I was amazed that “30 Days” had none. I agree with you that Foster was fun to watch, as was Huston for about half an hour, but that’s about it. The townspeople had nothing to do, and Hartnett looked scared, but that love story was laughable. I will also agree with you that it was brutal in its violence, and unrelenting in that it tried to cram the same nonsensical idea down our throats for a full hour.

Reply

18 Eric Melin October 23, 2007 at 12:45 am

Neil-

We must not have. Where Slade succeeded in “Hard Candy” to create tension with only two characters in a room, I was amazed that “30 Days” had none. I agree with you that Foster was fun to watch, as was Huston for about half an hour, but that’s about it. The townspeople had nothing to do, and Hartnett looked scared, but that love story was laughable. I will also agree with you that it was brutal in its violence, and unrelenting in that it tried to cram the same nonsensical idea down our throats for a full hour.

Reply

19 Ruby October 31, 2007 at 6:35 am

I have to agree here. I hadn’t realized I was doing it, but the person I saw this with finally turned to me and said “You’ve been sighing the whole movie!” I just replied, “I’m so bored!” I have no idea how such a clever idea fell prey to such poor execution, but it was a total snooze-fest.

Reply

20 Ruby October 31, 2007 at 6:35 am

I have to agree here. I hadn’t realized I was doing it, but the person I saw this with finally turned to me and said “You’ve been sighing the whole movie!” I just replied, “I’m so bored!” I have no idea how such a clever idea fell prey to such poor execution, but it was a total snooze-fest.

Reply

21 Ruby October 31, 2007 at 6:35 am

I have to agree here. I hadn’t realized I was doing it, but the person I saw this with finally turned to me and said “You’ve been sighing the whole movie!” I just replied, “I’m so bored!” I have no idea how such a clever idea fell prey to such poor execution, but it was a total snooze-fest.

Reply

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