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30 Days Of Night (2007)
Director: David Slade

review by Paul Higson

It was 1982 and we were satisfied with the incremental pace of horror films. Monsters occasionally whipped a tentacle at us and might bound suddenly around a corner the once. Human and supernatural threats alike took their time and rushed us only in key moments. Now it's 2007 and the hyperactive lot not only hurtle across the screen but they also appear to infect the technology, the camerawork and the editing. A zip here, an 'arriba, ondelay' there, a gnash, a slash, and quick work is made of their prey. It's hard to tell if it is blood or ketchup that hets them up. The arctic circle is a rare backdrop to horror adventures, but when used has given us Christian Nyby's The Thing From Another World, and John Carpenter's The Thing [actually set in Antarctica, not the 'north pole' - pedantic Ed], and it was the latter evoked in the trailers and pre-publicity for David Slade's 30 Days Of Night.

Based on a three-part mini-series of horror comics written by Steve Niles, 30 Days Of Night features the Arctic Circle town of Barrow with a population slashed to a third as the other two-thirds annually escape an unbearable 30 days of night. They boat and fly out, sometimes entire families, though some families make a fond farewell for the duration. The winter break will reduce the population to 172, and the deputy ritualistically makes the alteration to the 'welcome to Barrow' sign, something he may regret as it informs the monsters to come just how many people they have to see their way through (though at least one person will miss the plane, and one could have speculated that such a device could, in another scenario, have been used to allow a couple of people to miss their transport out and use it to avoid the vampires in an otherwise slaughtered town, grim but original). As family and friends catch the last transports, something is already afoot as some canny fellow having laid his hands on all the mobile phones and made a mini-bonfire of them. With nightfall fleet, blood-hungry vampires set upon the residents and over the first 24 hours the massacre of most is perpetrated. They tear the occupants apart, removal of the head necessary to ensure that they do not return as vampires.

Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) is estranged from his wife, Stella (Australian actress Melissa George), who has snuck back into town on business. A collision with a snow-cutter writes off her car and the replacement vehicle doesn't come soon enough to elicit her escape of the dark freeze. As the town goes to hell, Eben rounds up one band of survivors and they do an Anne Frank in the attic of a boarded-up house. It suffices, until the vampires try to use other survivors as rescue bait and one survivor (Chic Littlewood), suffering from Alzheimer's, threatens their location. The survivors then, under the cover of a snowstorm, relocate to, firstly, a convenience store, then the sheriff's office and finally, a factory, just as the first return of winter-light is due. It's a plot that could fit on a till receipt.

30 Days Of Night is not a bad film, is well made if not well constructed. Its voracious denizens successfully convey both pure evil and animal savagery. Led by Danny Huston, quite brilliant in the role of Marlow, they are a freaky looking bunch, Caucasian with stretched (I doubt my editor would allow me to add slantingdicular) eyes (bar Marlow) that roar in nefandous blood-curdling glee at their own foul play. Shock deaths take place but there is also cruel slow death. The action sequences are cutting, rampant, and there are the usual heroes and cowards, due tragedy and rightful revenge. The film, however, is let down by implausibilities. In an earlier schlock decade the faulty logic would have been waved on but that was a day of lower budgets and getting by. Standard production values are today so high that there is no excuse for irregularities and this storyline presents the director and team with numerous problems that could have been addressed and were not.

There is a note of irony (if not several ironies) that given the time frame this began as a comicbook and ended as a film. Niles, and artist Ben Templesmith, clearly were aware that their premise covering a 30 day period, it might not have been wise to stretch it over 12 issues to a point when temporarily the reader could have returned to and left Barrow again, though a reader would have appreciated the comparison of a year to the year it would feel like to those in the comics predicament, heightening the sense of imprisonment. The real problem comes in when it becomes a film and the mission is on the makers to make the viewer feel 720 hours in 113 minutes, actually, considerably less as the film opens with 20 to 30 minutes of exodus. The film has an impossible task dividing up the period of survival. Having set up exactly how voracious the vampires are, fast, unstoppable, savage, tearing through the population we must now assume that the ragbag of survivors can evade them over the remaining 30 days.

The vampires speaking in an unknown tongue, possibly even Klingon, know that they have the survivors trapped for the duration and cut off from the outside world and so we assume aim to use that for food stocking purposes. There is too little disclosed on the vampires, and though some mystery is welcome, we are left to puzzle over too much. We never find out where the vampires hole up in Barrow, we never see how they casually pass their day nor entreated to their full plan of action. Neither do we learn how they have survived so long unto this point. Do they hibernate, pick off a fat Inuit, barbecue polar bears or pick up a penguin? Having taken out most of the town in the initial night's frenzy, we are expected to believe that they cannot locate the remaining. All we learn is that they intend on keeping some as food stock and others as bait and eventual chow. In fact, they seem unaware of the remaining tally, so perhaps they never saw the welcome to Barrow sign or stopped reading at 'welcome'.

They come across as savage idiots, a bit full of themselves, and you wonder how they have survived this long. According to plot summaries we are informed that "because of the cold, the vampires' senses are weakened, and a few of the town's residents are able to hide." It sounds to me that Niles has never left Florida if he believes that (not that I know his base of operations, I am simply rooting his general ignorance to a patently warm state), as my own recall of the cold snap that hit the country in 1995 was how the smells seemed to slide towards you on the icy air. I even postulated the extreme conditions opening portals as smells and sounds were carried on them from seemingly nowhere. The continuing history of the comics show diminishing returns and suggests to me that Niles was one of the lucky, landing himself one fantastic premise but unable to follow it up. Worse, not even able to do it that initial full justice.

Most frustrating are the questions that arise around the human survivors. What are they eating in the attic? Where are they excreting? Why doesn't their excretion and general stink give them away? We know that the downstairs toilet is never used. When Isaac, the Alzheimer's sufferer, is allowed to use it on the group's final night in the attic, they instruct him not to flush. The potential health problems of the ten in the attic are never entered into. How do they exercise? They seem nimble enough when they do leave the attic for the store. The final day of light is also surely too long and the Sun should only have been allowed a peek. How did the stranger (Ben Foster of X-Men: The Last Stand), the human employed by the vampires to conduct recon missions, locate all the mobile phones (Christ, and they couldn't collectively find the survivors, maybe they should have vampirised him). People are lost to the vampires and replaced by more survivors. Not everyone you expect to survive will and the final face-off between Harnett and Huston is a bit rushed, appreciatively short unlike the usual ridiculously prolonged final fights but it is short for all that, over before it has begun, and timed, of course, for the first sunset in 30 days, to prevent the other vampires setting upon him.

Again, given that that returning sunset should have lasted minutes and it is unlikely the residents would be returning until decent daylight hours had returned the story should have continued minutes later. There are some good performances, and Mark Boone Jr is given one of his best roles to date as Beau Brower, who heroically cuts a swathe through half of the vampires' number before falling prey to them too. Boone Junior put in decent small support performances in Frankenfish and Dead Birds and we hope to see more of him. There is more than a coincidence to the appearance of Amber Sainsbury and Craig Hall in supporting roles, coming so shortly following their featured roles in Chris Graham's The Ferryman. The film is a New Zealand/ USA co-production shot largely at the Henderson Valley Studios in Auckland, New Zealand, apparently. The film is intermittently impressive but a shortage of intelligence has severely damaged its overall effectiveness. 30 Days Of Night is entertaining, but it is so infuriating that the new realist logic was not adequately applied to the writing, and I expect little further of real worth from the fortunate Niles.
30 Days of Night

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