Despite its title and sharing the same star, 30 Days of Night is not a cut-rate sequel to 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002), though the image that conjures—Josh Hartnett as a vampire who gives up bloodsucking for Lent—is far more enticing than anything that actually occurs in this monumentally average horror flick. The premise—vampires descend on an isolated town in the most remote part of Alaska to take advantage of the month-long night of winter—is slightly intriguing, but the execution is blander than Hartnett’s screen presence.
Worse, this is a film just brimming with missed opportunities. I was hoping for things like an igloo crypt and polar-bear-on-vampire violence. At the very least, a leading lady named Stella (Melissa George) ought to have inspired a Brando impression. No such luck. OK, so the movie does offer vampires with appallingly messy eating (or should that be drinking?) habits, little evidence of personal hygiene and a peculiar tendency to emit wailing noises last heard when Godzilla was trouncing Tokyo. And it does present us with a head vampire (a slumming Danny Huston) who speaks in some Russian-like foreign tongue very, very slowly (possibly due to the difficulty of enunciating with a mouthful of pointy dental prosthetics).
What promised to be a new deal in vampire movies is really just the same old false shuffle in a novelty setting—right down to a Dracula-like vampire king and a Renfield-style henchman (Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma). It’s the sort of movie that might have passed muster with a strong leading man, but what it offers is Hartnett. And it might have slid past on atmosphere, but it’s not exactly brimming with that either. Instead 30 Days of Night is clearly positioned so that its purely perfunctory plasma-pumping pleasures pass muster as disposable Halloween fare. In that regard, it will likely succeed in its short term at the box office till the predictable arrival of Saw IV next week renders it “so last Friday.”
On its own limited merits, the film will have some clout with audiences for whom some nice arterial spray is on par with a fine Bordeaux. The movie’s certainly not lacking in the bloodletting department, and director David Slade (Hard Candy) clearly respects the value of the contrast of red blood on white snow—so much so, in fact, that fresh snowfall never obliterates the image. I suppose this is poetic license. That same license must also account for the fact that the endless winter night isn’t very dark.
Where the film falls down worst, however, is in its lack of any real tension once the bloodthirsty horde makes their presence known. It wasn’t all that hot prior to that—the marital woes of the Hartnett and George characters are pretty lame filler—but at least there was some sense of dread about what was going to happen. As soon as the attacks start, the movie becomes repetitious—enlivened only by cheesy shock effects and even cheesier musical strings. Making the viewer jump with sudden loud blasts of music or by having someone or something popping out of the shadows is pretty easy; actually scaring them is another matter.
Moreover, the film is singularly inept in making anything at all out of the passage of time and the potential sense of increasing desperation. It simply leaps forward in time every so often to find the little band of survivors deciding to move to another hiding place. The results are always predictably unfortunate for someone. And finally, 30 Days of Night opts to make no sense at all by the film’s climax—unless you’re willing to accept that the vampires haven’t bothered to beat a hasty retreat to darker climes considerably prior to a couple minutes before sunrise on the 30th day. We’re told these folks have kept going for a few hundred years. It’s hard to imagine how with tactics like these. Rated R for strong horror, violence and language.