Thursday, 1 November 2007

Film Review: 30 Days Of Night

After the shitfests that were Underworld, Rise, Nightwatch and Van Helsing, there's clearly room for a decent vampire movie, and as an adaptation of an enjoyable comic book series, with a promising trailer, production by Sam Raimi and direction by David Slade, I had high hopes for 30 Days Of Night.

The premise is, after all, quite interesting. In Barrow, Alaska the sun doesn't rise or set for 30 days, an annual occurrence that causes most of the population to head elsewhere for a month. The 152 people who remain clearly don't fear Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, but they soon end up fearing the horde of vampires who descend upon the town.

Okay, so the whole thing is a rip-off of a 1994 episode of Tales From The Crypt, but that wouldn't really matter if the entire picture weren't riddled with ridiculous flaws. Early on, we're introduced to The Stranger (played by Ben Foster), who paves the way for the vampires' arrival by burning the town's mobile phones, destroying a helicopter motor and slaughtering sled dogs. "Oh God, now the population are totally trapped and have no way of communicating with the outside world," you might think. But, just minutes later, Josh Hartnett's character, local Sherriff Eben Oleson, takes a call on his Nokia from Melissa George (Fire Marshall and Eben's estranged wife, Stella), while driving his fucking car.

Upon apprehending The Stranger, Eben assumes that the trouble is over, neglecting to mention to anyone that in the first scene of the movie that there's a bloody great ghost ship parked on the outskirts of town. And so, with The Stranger warning, "they're coming," the vampires begin killing off the locals. First to go is the old bloke who runs the power plant, swiftly followed by a utility worker and Eben's pot-smoking Grandmother, who was presumably too stoned to escape the same way that Eben's brother Jake did.

It's at this point when the film's solitary outstanding moment occurs, a two-minute sweeping overhead shot that presents the carnage in the town, as the vampires soak the snow with the townsfolk's blood. As the scene ends, we're left with the gang who'll accompany us through the rest of the film: Eben, Stella, Jake, grizzled loner Beau and some other chumps. Can they last out the month before the vampires are forced to leave by the rising sun?

Just as you ask yourself that question, we skip forward to day seven. We know this because Hartnett now has a little bit of bumfluff and also it says day 7 on the screen. Presumably the urge eat, piss and shit has totally passed by day seven and our motley crew behave as if living in a tiny attic for a week is nothing out of the ordinary.

By day 15, our survivors decide that visiting the grocery store and getting something to eat mightn't be a bad idea, and it's in the store that the film's boldest moment occurs, with the introduction of a little girl vampire. The previously cowardly Jake lops her head off in no short order, which is a shame, because judging by her Einsturzende Neubauten tattoo, she was a cool little motherfucker.

Again, despite being under no obvious threat, the characters decide to dart about town in the most idiotic of manners. Special mention of this lunacy must go to Deputy Sheriff Billy, who, fearing that his wife and two children would be slain by the vampires, decides to shoot them. He turns the pistol on himself, only for the gun to jam. Does he hang himself? Does he slash his wrists? Drown himself? No. He waits 27 days, and then makes contact with Hartnett and the others to reveal his secret. Which is probably why he never made Sheriff.

Then, as the film lurches to its obvious conclusion, and perhaps aware that it has managed to build absolutely no palpable tension throughout, it descends into a morass of gore. Finally, with about fifteen minutes to go until the sun rises and having survived for 29 days, Hartnett decides that the wisest thing to do would be to inject himself with some vampire blood, turn himself into a vampire and go and fight them.

Hartnett is his usual charisma vacuum and David Slade is never able to convey the same sense of unease that he did with Hard Candy, but 30 Days Of Night’s biggest problem is its vampires. Unable to do anything other than scream and wail, these are Bela Lugosi's primitive, backward, country cousins, lacking any guile, artifice, or even the urge to wipe the freeze-dried blood from their ugly faces.

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