Posted on November 6, 2007 by Flames
Review by: Jason Thorson
It’s not often I go to the theatre with relatively high expectations and leave not having been disappointed. So, driving home Friday I was enthusiastic. It was a warm and windy October night, and I had just seen David Slade’s film adaptation of the graphic novel, 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. Mr. Slade had just reminded me why I still bother doing this. In a genre that includes many more misses than hits, it’s the all too rare exemplary offerings to the horror gods, like 30 Days of Night, that make the abundance of bad remakes and ridiculous sequels nearly fade from memory.
Josh Hartnett plays Eben Oleson, sheriff of Barrow, Alaska – an oil drilling town north of the Artic Circle that goes dark for 30 straight days every year. Most leave town while a few such as Eben race against the last sunset preparing for the long night. During this time, a series of increasingly substantial crimes manifest themselves. These range from the discovery of a pile of burnt cell phones to the slaughter of a kennel of sled dogs. Eben’s estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), shows up and becomes stranded just as a mysterious stranger arrives (Ben Foster), a nod to Bram Stoker’s R.M. Renfield, and gleefully warns Barrow’s remaining citizenry of impending death and destruction. Once the light is gone, a band of ravenous vampires descends upon Barrow, forcing Eben, Stella, and the others to attempt surviving the month.
Emulating many of the positive attributes of Slade’s last feature, 2005’s thriller Hard Candy, Days focuses on the terror of its well-rounded and well-written characters with whom we don’t have to merely pretend to empathize. That’s because there’s more here than just fangs and blood. Although surviving marauding vampires is the central conflict, the real meat on the bone is the dynamic relationships between family and friends and the effects of their unique community on those relationships. The subplots are mature, interesting and fully realized. Sometimes it feels as if Days is a better movie than it needs to be given its genre and that’s exciting to us occasionally-disillusioned horror fans.
Slade’s direction is a throwback to movies such as The Thing (1982) and Night of the Living Dead (1968). In an age where it’s assumed movie goers are all afflicted with ADD, Slade respects our intelligences and our attention spans with his pacing and shot selection. The action sequences are both spectacular and scary, but not gratuitous and Slade covers them using all the directorial tools on the belt such as wide establishing shots for exposition and static medium shots of the chaos. The result is that Days isn’t the all-too-typical and disorienting close-up/quick-cut flurry, but rather Slade’s tactful coverage culminates in a steady cinematic blizzard of monstrous proportions.
The fear factor in 30 Days of Night is high. First off, these vampires aren’t the cliché gothic supermodels who happen to have pointy teeth. There is a welcome lack of sex and seduction. Instead these vamps are ancient and powerful. Appearances mean nothing as even their guttural language predates superficial vanity. They are clearly driven by a primal, animalistic, and voracious appetite for blood and their attacks are brutally violent and truly frightening. These monsters are neither Bella Lugosi nor Christopher Lee and they most certainly are not Tom Cruise or Brad Pit. We’ve finally been given onscreen vampires conceived with true blue horror fans in mind.
Tapping into something very visceral, the movie boasts an array of throwback style gore effects, but most impressively, Days gives equal footing to the story’s psychological terror. Characters are presented with interesting and difficult choices to make. One character guns down his entire family out of mercy only to have his gun jam before he can join them, the aftermath of which is heart wrenching. After another character is bitten by a vampire and starts to turn, he recalls how his family was killed by a drunk driver and his strength came from knowing he’d see them again in the afterlife. Turing the tables on our expectations, his terror now manifests from the realization that he is likely one of the undead, having lost his both his family and his humanity forever.
Not without fault, Slade commits a couple of noticeable mistakes. Most notably, he plays the hurry-up-and-wait beat twice after the movie’s midpoint, forgetting to maintain the movie’s momentum while delivering necessary exposition. This needlessly lengthens an inherently slow section of the story. He also falls prey to a classic filmmaker foible. The third act is very strong as the story’s several threads are ingeniously tied together with image after image of engaging film. Yet, for some reason, Slade second-guesses his clarity and decides to redundantly tell us everything he’s so effectively showing us. But really, beggars can’t be choosers.
David Slade has provided us genre geeks something to get excited about. 30 Days of Night is quite simply a very solid horror flick. All the ingredients for success are here: good acting, beautiful photography, and great source material. It’s scary, fun, and dramatic, while also giving us a nice example of the potential this genre has to deliver engaging stories. And if a month in the dark shows us anything about modern horror, it’s that David Slade’s future is looking very bright.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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