Last month I pointed out that while in theory Vampires are perhaps the coolest movie monsters on paper their cinematic output and depiction in recent times has been awful. Pretty monsters with gorgeous hair, impeccable manners and immaculate enunciation of intelligent dialogue.
What happened to the days when a Vampire was an undead creature doomed to roaming the night in search of lifegiving blood, ideally sourced from unwilling young humans in gory and disgusting ways?
Even pre-Twilight things were looking down for old Vampy, but it still goes without saying that the franchise doesn’t help with hardening up what had gradually became a namby-pamby image.
Now consider this for the proverbial teaspoon of cement: a remote town in Alaska more or less shuts down for 30 days in a row each year when the unique positioning of the town on the globe causes an entire month of darkness. That town – named Barrow – is beset by a pack of hungry bloodthirsty vampires (who if you know your mythology don’t tan well). The 152 remaining humans in the town must lie low for about four weeks until the sun returns and the vampires must flee.
Pretty awesome in theory right? I thought so then and still do now, which is why I am puzzled and a little annoyed by what actually ended up coming to screen.
In the last couple days before the annual “blackout” everyone hunkers down for a cold few weeks, stocking up on supplies and checking their contingency plans in case something goes wrong, unfortunately “vampire attack” was seemingly not one of the risks on the checklist.
As soon as the dark arrives all communications are mysteriously severed, even mobile phones – don’t ask how they tried to explain but common sense suggests that we overlook logic at this time. Those departing on last minute flights say their goodbyes (“C’mon, it’s only one night!”) but the reality is that even without the savage undead an entire month of freezing cold and no sunlight must be taxing at the best of times. As an acknowledgment of this alcohol is banned from the town over the period – I for one would have been on one of those planes!
In the scramble for flights one is left behind, Stella (Melissa George) was to be on the last plane but was held up and missed it, meaning an uncomfortable stay awaits. Uncomfortable because one of the 151 others is Evan (Josh Hartnett), the local sheriff, and her ex-husband.
Need I remind you that there is a total booze ban for the month? That’s a lot of solitaire… or masturbation… or both.
Shortly after darkness sets in the locals start noticing a few anomalies – there are strange doin’s afoot. Out of the blue a total stranger appears, he is feral looking, unkempt and unruly, so he ends up in a cell where he is asked to explain himself. The man is largely incoherent and babbling but the few things that he utters that make sense seem very ominous and menacing indeed.
We’re now half an hour in and at the time I was tense and on edge – we know already that all hell will break loose and soon, but the set up to this point was extremely promising and the bizarre loner’s appearance only ratcheted up the tension.
I wasn’t to know at the time but unfortunately the best bits were largely behind us.
The vampires arrive and get to work with little fanfare, with no communication and a 720 hour (30 days) window they needn’t rush, but they nonetheless set about hunting, dropping and draining every inhabitant in Barrow. The early scenes of the assault are quite effective and utilise some nifty and creative camera angles, and the appearance of the vampire horde is also great. They are savage and pale, with long random teeth and gross long fingernails, and while they don’t speak much it is in a offputting dialect with much hissing and spitting. The filmmakers managed to find a dozen or so of the more odd looking actors going around, and then heightened the differences between them and their human counterparts by somehow making them less human and more “other” in appearance.
With a large proportion of Barrow no more than bloodstains on the snow the few survivors, including Evan and his younger brother, and Stella seek shelter with a few others in the attic of a local home. Here they remain for many days while the vampires systematically search the buildings for the presence of unwilling organ donors.
With vampires being immune to the cold and free from the threat of sunlight they basically rule the town, as the food and supplies run low for the humans they are forced to consider their options, remain hidden and gradually starve – or move and potentially become fleshy blood bags for the ravenous new inhabitants.
As the human numbers gradually dwindle due to various tragedies and sacrifices the situation becomes more dire, leading to more drastic decisions…
I so badly wanted to embrace 30 Days of Night before its release, and the first half hour was indeed promising. And while it was by no means a failure the execution of the last hour was merely adequate and I felt there were opportunities missed. The film was at times gory enough, the sense of dread and desperation was conveyed well, but there were little touches that detracted from the film. One notable minus was the inclusion of a young girl vampire, perhaps 6 (when human). I mentioned before that the vamps talked with their own language, but as kid-vampires are apparently shockingly disturbing they felt it warranted getting this kid to turn around and say “Who wants to play with me?” before charging. This shits me beyond all belief, if you set a tone and then move away just for a cheap hooky scare why bother setting the tone in the first place?
Maybe I’m overthinking things, I have said for a while that the last Great vampire film was Let the Right One in, and that was only a couple years ago – but in reality it was a Great film that happened to have a vampire in it. It wasn’t the full bore “eat everyone” suckfest (in the right way) that the genre so desperately needs, a gore fest with severed limbs and spurts of blood across the screen. 30 Days of Night at least had a crack at filling the void, it just missed the mark somehow.
I still think that the basic concept hides immense potential if the story is right, then they inexplicably chickened out and made the sequel straight to DVD, not even using the basic “30 days” premise. Disappointing, because if this remains the best film in the franchise it must be looked at as a brave attempt – but nowhere near the Great Vampire film that the vampire genre deserves.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Brilliant concept – average execution. A cool poster and DVD cover in search of a movie to back them up.
P.S. Once again I’m going on the fence with this one. I think it is worthwhile so will label it such even though my personal ratings suggest otherwise. I just think it could have been so much more.