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30 Days of Night (2007)
Once there was a time when serial killers walked, zombies lurched, and vampires stalked, but times have most certainly changed. Now serial killers sprint, zombies run, and vampires, like the ones in David Slade’s brutal and stylized 30 Days of Night, move so fast that the camera can’t keep up with them.
As the film opens, the small town of Barrow, Alaska is celebrating its last day of sunlight before delving into a month of utter darkness and harsh winter weather. It is during these subsequent thirty days that droves of savage vampires begin raid the town, at first killing the livestock and then focusing their aggression toward the people. Few survive, including a local law enforcement officer, Eben (Josh Harnett, Lucky Number Slevin), his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George, The Amityville Horror), both of whom encounter a stranger (Ben Foster, Alpha Dog) who proclaims a connection between himself and the recent vampire upheaval.
30 Days of Night is chilling in both its execution and presentation. Treating the Alaskan tundra as a canvas, Slade paints a bleak picture that is both tragic and beautiful. His use of muted tones provides a stark contrast to the bright crimson-red blood that is constantly flowing from the mouths of the vampires and the wounds of their victims. There is also the white snow -- which looks and falls like ash -- that serves as a constant reminder that the environment can often be an effective threat to the characters that inhabit it. In particular, a looming claustrophobic feel is constantly present due to the fact that the snow has barricaded the entire town and all roads leading to and from it have been closed. There are few places to run and with the constant snowfall, there are even fewer places to hide from the ever-growing vampire threat.
It is the vampires that provide the most tension in the film, snatching their victims in an instant and then retreating to the shadows before the audience even knows what has happened. For the most part, these surprise attacks are foreshadowed heavily as the soundtrack dies down and the camera’s movements slow to a stop, focusing on the character that has found him/herself alone and unsuspectingly in the middle of a swarm of bloodsuckers. However, after one sequence in which a woman is snatched from her home and dragged outside through a broken window without warning or expectation, the film’s tension heightens and for the rest of the running time, the audience is left with the notion that no place is safe.
But behind these scenes of increased tension are scenes of outright tedium. Somehow even with their enhanced abilities, the vampires of 30 Days of Night cannot come up with a more interesting means to disembowel their victims other than springing on them from the shadows, dragging them off-camera, and taking a chunk from their throat. We’re never quite sure when the attack is coming, but we do know what will happen when it does happen, and therein lies the monotony of it all. There is also the film’s tendency to fall back on familiar horror formulas, most notably when a group of survivors have locked themselves in a safe house and then decide one-by-one to walk outside and then travel alone, only to be picked off by the awaiting vampires.
Those growing restless during these tedious scenes will find solace in the copious amounts of bloodshed that Slade has the good sense to show us; throat slashing and decapitations, in particular, have their fair share of intense close-ups, a testament to Slade’s graphic representation style. He knows his audience. More specifically, he knows what his audience wants to see. Slade was right to hide the violence in his previous film, Hard Candy, because it became a more effective way of depicting it. But here, Slade has no reason to hide the violence of his film because that is what his audience has come for. To hide the violence of 30 Days of Night would be depriving the audience, and Slade knows that.
30 Days of Night is a decent vampire movie. It never excels to the level of graphic novel adaptation excellence that recent movies like 300 or Sin City have, but it does find a comfortable place near the top of the current vampire movie heap. I imagine that when the next generation of movie monsters comes along, even the vampires in this movie won’t be fast enough to keep up.