30 Days of Night

Movie Information

The Story: A small group of humans in northernmost Alaska try to survive an invasion of vampires during the long night of winter. The Lowdown: An OK idea stymied by dull execution and a largely listless cast.
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: David Slade
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Rendall
Rated: R

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

8 thoughts on “30 Days of Night

  1. I didn’t think the movie was that bad. For those who liked it, they should read the graphic novel by Steve Niles (sp?)

  2. Orbit DVD

    People love this one. I think I have one employee who has seen it two or three times already.

    marc

  3. Ken Hanke

    Judging by 30 DAYS’ performance today, people must be loving SAW IV now.

  4. Valerie Almazan

    I waited in anticipation for this movie to come out in theathers and all i can say it was worth the wait. 30 days of night was a four star movie. The graphics where good and the story line was awsone. josh H. is a cutie and his heroic side in this movie was suspensfull. The ending made the movie good. The title of the movie and the fact that josh H. did a movie with a simialr title is irrelevant.

  5. Ken Hanke

    “The title of the movie and the fact that josh H. did a movie with a simialr title is irrelevant.”

    I found both movies irrelevant.

  6. Erik Harrison

    When did this commenting thing start? This sounds like a -terrible- idea.

    I thought the flick was beautifully photographed – the brightness comes from the snow. Nights in Alaska are actually quite bright. Otherwise I tend to agree. I am perhaps a little more tolerant simply because I think Mark Boone Junior needs to be seen more.

    Essentially this movie falls apart for me for two reasons. First, it doesn’t manage to jack the tension up. No reprieve from Vampires in an environment which is actively hostile to human life? That should have been awesome. Second, I didn’t buy the romantic relationship, so the final sacrifice was without power.

    Still, Mark Boone Junior in a chainsaw tractor? I didn’t feel robbed.

  7. Ken Hanke

    “When did this commenting thing start? This sounds like a -terrible- idea.”

    What can I say? The world of the Internet is upon us — for good or ill or probably both.

    I confess I had to look up Mark Boone Jr — and I still only have the vaguest notion of him — but since I can find merit in a novie because Gustav von Seyffertitz or Arthur Edmund Carewe show up, I’m in no position to question giving bonus points for Mr. Boone Jr.’s presence.

    I pretty much agree that the thing that really kills this one is the complete lack of increased tension. The movie goes along in almost exactly the same key once the vampires show up. Just all of a sudden we see a title that tells us time has passed. The situation looks no better nor worse, but everybody decides to move to a new location (which seems no big improvement) so someone can meet his or her doom.

    Can’t say if I don’t buy the romantic relationship because I don’t buy the relationship or because I’ve yet to be convinced of Hartnett’s acting skills.

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