Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Night 1: 30 Days of Night

Unsurprisingly enough, I start this little junket to the dark side with the film that provided my mission statement. Released just before Halloween in 2007 and based on a three-part graphic novel by Steve Niles (who also co-wrote the screenplay), 30 Days of Night depicts in fairly gory detail the vampyric invasion of the small town of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost settlement in America.

As the film opens, residents are preparing for an imminent month of perpetual darkness. Several acts of violence and vandalism accelerate and deepen Barrow's plunge into isolation. It's a clever setup, and the filmmakers wisely scuttle through these events in short order so the audience doesn't have a chance to question their plausibility.
One of the film's nicest touches, and by far its best performance, arrives in the form of The Stranger, an update of the Renfield character from the original Dracula. Played with delicious seediness and fervor by Ben Foster, The Stranger acts as both harbinger and facilitator for his fanged masters. Though arrested and imprisoned almost immediately by pretty boy sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), The Stranger successfully sets the whole town on edge. The power is cut, the blood frenzy begins, and the residents of Barrow slide off that edge straight into a godless abyss.

All of this occurs in the first twenty minutes of the film. The next twenty is all bloodletting. Coordinating their attack with an odd mix of pterodactyl shrieks and neanderthal click-consonants, the vampire horde quickly lays waste to Barrow. Right around the forty minute mark there is an overhead tracking shot of such breathtaking mayhem that it very nearly elevates
30 Days of Night into an instant classic.

Unfortunately, it is all downhill from there.

Despite its smartly constructed setup, and a chilling performance by Danny Huston as the chief neck shredder, 30 Days is simply not that scary. Squandering the opportunity to shoot terrifying scenes in near or total darkness, the filmmakers inexplicably light everything in the dull glow of dusk. The editing during the second half borders on the ridiculous, as whole days and weeks pass while characters remain in the same position, seemingly without eating or drinking or taking a piss, some of them in sub-zero weather. There are too many thinly drawn secondary characters, so that scenes supposed to carry emotional weight fall completely flat. By the time our hero decides to make his big move, we simply aren't invested enough in the outcome to overlook the flaws in plot and pacing.

With that being said, I still enjoyed the film and would recommend it to fans of the genre. 30 Days of Night rides a long way on style and concept--too long, in fact, and ultimately just runs out of gas.

For more scary fun in the snow see: The Thing, Frankenstein (the ending), The Last Winter, Wind Chill.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:

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