"30 Days of Night" has a marvelous premise, a reasonable cast, and a sublime location to play around with. But the producers just had to give the material to director David Slade, a hack filmmaker of the worst kind, who drowns any promise this nihilistic tale of frosty survival held by smothering the picture in excessive, pedestrian visual gymnastics.
In the remote town of Barrow, Alaska, the sun takes a vacation for 30 days every year, leaving the locals isolated from the rest of the world. During this particular permanent night, a group of vampires (led by Danny Houston) swarm the town, gobbling up the locals without fear of sunlight to hinder their efforts. With most of the community reduced to food for the bloodsuckers, it's up to Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), and a small cluster of Barrow neighbors to survive the month while the vampires methodically stalk them.
Adapted from a well-received (and thoroughly franchised) graphic novel, "30 Days" is a concentrated horror stand-off; a survival tale with fantastical fringes, slicked with waves of blood and gore. The very concept of vampires let loose in a location that contains no sunlight to temper their hunger pains holds fantastic promise. However, "30 Days" as a movie is frustrating, more concerned with artifice than primal scream results.
I place the blame squarely on Slade's shoulders. His debut film, 2006's pedophile yawner "Hard Candy," introduced a director who holds no concept of suspense, only chaos. "30 Days" is another experiment in Slade's theory that tension is not something to nurture, it's something to detonate. After a chilly, epic introduction to the setting and the conflict, it doesn't take long for Slade to start digging into his bag of tricks once the vampire reign commences. A favorite of the director is clichéd open-shutter photography, executed by a cameraman who forgot to pop his seizer medication that day.
Every time a vampire moves, Slade's frame is hurled around, making the film impossible to comprehend at times. He pulled the same tired stunt in "Candy," and it's even more transparent in "30 Days." After nearly two solid hours of ocular abuse, it made me long for the John Carpenter glory years, where a filmmaker would trust his audience enough to allow them to search the details of the screen and encourage their fears, not bury them in noise and beat them into submission.
While Slade dreams up new ways to double-dribble his camera, the rest of "30 Days" wanders off into uncomfortable alleyways of illogic and flat-out neglect. A big piece missing from this puzzle was an introduction to Barrow, getting the audience used to the spatial relationships of the buildings. The community standoff plays a huge role in the second act of the picture, but it's impossible to understand how everything is laid out, thus leading to confusion over whether our heroes are actually in danger. With Eben running all over town, there's no way to invest in the tension when Slade doesn't bother to address the distances, or even the passage of time, leading to many a scene that flounders when it desires the utmost attention.
The vampires are another problem that chip away at the film's overall effect. Self-consciously designed to resemble runners-up in a "Miss German Expressionism" beauty contest, the creatures of the night that populate "30 Days" are a shrill, laughably over expressive bunch. There's a whole lot of stiff method acting going on here, but little clue as to what make these tenants of hell tick. Mostly they stare off into the distance, seem unable to wipe their mouths after feeding (yet they manage to dress themselves in hepcat suits, go figure), and feature fanged oral appliances so big, the actors can't close their mouths properly, or even spit out their dialogue cleanly.
"30 Days of Night" is a picture molded on a purely visceral level of appreciation. It strictly for audiences who like to be submerged and beaten instead of trusted. I found it to be one of the larger disappointments of the year; a ridiculously wicked premise lost on a filmmaker who doesn't have the vision, patience, or slightest thread of talent to breathe life into it.
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