Friday, October 21, 2011

Movie Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

I avoided seeing 30 Days of Night for the longest time because, for some reason, I thought I would hate it. The concept always intrigued me but maybe it was the fact that Josh Hartnett was the star that turned me off initially. Don't judge a book by its cover or its starring actors, I guess, because 30 Days of Night was actually pretty darn good.

In this story taken from a graphic novel of the same name, the northernmost U.S. town of Barrow, Alaska undergoes a period of 30 days of total darkness in the winter. When this polar night begins, bloodthirsty vampires invade the town to feed on the populace. A small group of citizens, led by the town sheriff, try to survive the invasion by hiding out until the sun comes up again.

30 Days of Night is a slow burn with not as much action as you would expect. The tone of the movie is represented in the miserably cold atmosphere and the town's impending doom about being plunged into depressing darkness for a whole month (I thought polar night lasted longer than that in that area, but what do I know?). The strange man who arrives in town unexpectedly cuts off all ways of communication and the town essentially shuts down, so no one on the outside knows that anything is wrong and they can't call for help. I can't remember if it's explained why they can't just drive away, though. Is it because of the blizzard? And why would the airport freaking shut down for the month anyway just because it's dark? Planes fly at night all the time, morons, I don't see the problem. Anyway.

I don't know how big the town of Barrow really is, but it must be pretty good size for these people to be able to hide from the vampires for a month. The few people left alive hole up in some dude's attic for most of the time, where some of them understandably get a wild case of cabin fever insanity. There's also the underlying tension between Josh Hartnett's Eben and his wife Stella (Melissa George) who have unexplained problems that you know will be solved by the end of the movie. Ha! But even that cliche is turned on its head in the film's amazing conclusion, which I'll talk more about in a bit.

The vampires here are just how like them in anything outside of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. They don't look too unnaturally monstrous, but only like pale people with sharp, sharp teeth. They speak in their own strange language and are basically your typical evil, rip-you-to-pieces bloodsuckers. Actually, a couple of them were kind of hot, but that's beside the point. The point is that these vampires are awesome and the only negative about them is that they are not given nearly enough screen time for my liking.

And although the action having to do with these awesome vampires is fairly minimal, the movie does manage to throw in some pretty good gags. First of all, there's the gnarly scene where the vamps attack and kill about half of the townspeople in about five minutes. There are some cool aerial shots of the carnage in this bit and I freaking loved it. Secondly, there's the as yet unmatched scene of Eben and Stella driving through town in their truck only to have the vampires freaking lift the thing up by the ass end and flip it over. That. Was. So. Cool.

There are only three mentionable gore gags, and I think you'll know which ones I'm thinking of if you've seen the movie. There's a vampire getting sliced in half with this vehicle that's got a chain saw thingy attached to it; there's the guy who gets his hand ripped off the trash chewer-upper; and there's the part where Eben kills the head vampire by punching him through - not in, through - the mouth and coming out the back of his head. The whole fight scene before this wasn't all that exciting so this bit comes out of nowhere and had me clapping with gleeful delight. There's also an earlier cool scene with a freak-ass vampire little girl covered in blood. Children = scary, we all know that.

Now, Eben was able to do this because beforehand he had injected himself with the blood of a vampire-infected person. So even though we know he is going to win the day and save his beloved, he's going to have to die because now he's a vampire. The movie ends with Stella and him sitting on their favorite spot watching the sun finally come up and Stella holding Eben while he turns to ashes. My goodness, what an utterly depressing ending. But you know, I liked it, and I thought the effects work in this scene was gorgeous. The way it was shot and the music just made it so disgustingly beautiful. Stella's in agony but trying to stay strong and then gets this look on her face like she's going to go out and fuck up every vampire she can find. I love you, Melissa George, I really do. 

I'm not calling this one of the greatest vampire movies out there, but 30 Days of Night sets itself apart from the others with its chilling (no pun intended) tone and trading out CGI-boosted action sequences for a couple of good emotionally draining thrill moments. I'm not sure how I'll feel about the sequel though... anybody got thoughts on that one?


  1. Yes! Josh Hartnett always put me off (especially considering the fact that Eben is supposed to be an Inuit, as in the comics) but 30 Days Of Night is a great vampire film. The sequel is good, but nowhere near as enjoyable.

    Great review as ever.

  2. Great review. I finally got a copy of this last week and was all ready to watch it, but it wouldn't play. I was really looking forward to seeing it too. Hopefully a new disc will be sent soon.

  3. Michele, you were avoiding it for a reason.. the truth is, "30 Days of Night" is pretty mediocre, and neither as entertaining, nor as scary and thrilling as I expected. It ended up on my list "Movies everyone else loved and I hated". :)
    Respect your opinion though. You obviously enjoyed it a bit more than I did.

  4. Watch the Korean vampire movie Thirst. You want a good vampire movie? This one fits the bill. And you will LOVE the ending.

  5. I'm getting a little tired of zombie movies, but this one is great. For a film based on a comic books series I wasn't really let down with this one. Like a good vampire movie, the setting is creepy the whole time with great soundtrack, camera work, good acting, good story, and generally well entertaining.

  6. I liked the snowy, isolated atmosphere of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and I thought Ben Foster did an excellent job is his supporting role 9and was woefully underused). That said, I skipped the sequel because somehow it seemed kinda pointless, considering the very specific gimmick of the first one.

  7. @Michele: Just like Nebular, I'm not a huge fan of 30 Days - though it's a masterpiece compared to the super-super-awful sequel.

    @Mac Campbell: yep, that one is really great!

    back to @Michele: watch THIRST asap, you'll love it!

  8. @Maynard, Thirst will put Michele to sleep, that's for sure. :)

  9. I agree with a very positive appreciation of the movie. The setting is original in a perfectly logical way. The conclusion is unexpected, but the only one possible without some miraculous gimmick of storytelling. But for me the most interesting and original point is the social behavior of the vampires, copied on that of *wolves*: perfectly logical again, for a pack of highly social predators. And this is what allows Eben to save her wife: having killed the 'Alpha' in fair fight he becomes the new pack leader and can deter his 'subordinates' from harassing her until the sun rises.
    Yes, a lot of excellent original ideas.

  10. @Joel: Thanks! For some reason I thought maybe this would be a movie you wouldn't like, but yes, it is a great vampire film.

    @William: I think this one is worth the wait. Let me know what you think.

    @Nebs: No, it's not particularly scary or thrilling, but that's what I liked about it. It's a different kind of vampire film, more moody and depressing, so I'm not surprised that it's not to everyone's liking.

    @Mac: You know, I had Thirst in my queue for so long and then took it out because I never watched it and didn't think I ever would! I might give it a shot some day now.

    @DTG: I agree, the technical aspects were all very well done.

    @J astro: I didn't even recognize Ben Foster for the longest time so I guess that proves how good he was.

    @Maynard: Okay okay, I'm putting Thirst back in my queue! :)

    @abdul: Hm, good observation on the vampires as a pack. It definitely makes sense with the way the leader is presented, and how he is the only vampire Eben had to defeat at the end.

  11. @Neb:
    oh, grumpy old George. You despise Thirst? *pff*

    excellent :)

  12. I like your review, and I'm glad you liked film. I'm not sure why so many people dislike this film. It's an original idea, in an original setting, with some really creepy vampires. what's not to like? While the plot maybe mediocre I think there are enough great elements to add up to an awesome flick.

    I just reviewed this film myself on my blog. And being a fresh film critic I'm always looking for feedback. And you are a good reviewer. ;)If you get the chance check it out.