Beautifully Horrifying Night a Bloodcurdling Scream
Save for one minor hiccup near the end, David Slade’s adaptation of the graphic novel 30 Days of Night is every bit as beautifully horrifying as I hoped it would be. This down-and-dirty saga of an Alaskan town faced with a marauding force of vicious vampires during a normally quiet month of wintry darkness isn’t just good, it’s damn good, the film a potent limerick of blood, suspense, heroism and violence I thoroughly enjoyed.
The town of Barrow, Alaska is used to taking things easy. Perched at the top of the world, each winter they face 30 days of darkness as the sun hides on the other side of the meridian. Those who choose to stay behind are used to fending for themselves during these days of endless night. In fact, they take great pride in doing just that.
Things change the moment a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster, who with 3:10 to Yuma and now this probably has the market cornered on skuzzy bad guys) wanders into town seemingly out of nowhere. At first Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) doesn’t put much stock in the man’s cryptic musings about encroaching death, But when strange occurrences begin to rip the small community apart, it is up to Eben to save as many of the town’s residents as he can from a shadowy pack of invaders hungering for human blood.
Soon he and a handful of others, including his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), realize they are battling vampires, all of whom are intent on wiping their town’s existence right off the map. Somehow they must find a way to make it through the next thirty days without getting bit, With time running out, Eben must decide as to whether or not he should stand and fight, putting his own life on the line in the hope this will save everyone else.
It’s a great scenario, one brought to vivid life in Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s source material. While the film doesn’t quite capture the giddy malevolent terror found upon the duo’s pages, the director and his trio of writers – Niles, Stuart Beattie (Collateral) and Brian Nelson (Hard Candy) – come pretty darn close. Slade’s picture builds terror with unrelenting ferocity, even utilizing a handful of vampire genre clichés in ways that feels fresh and imaginative even when they’re not.
The technical elements are outstanding. Jo Willems (Rocket Science) shoots the frigidly blue landscapes with a canny eye for malicious detail. Paul Denham Austerberry’s (Assault on Precinct 13) production design crisply and cleanly evokes the eerie spirit of the graphic novel. Maybe best of all? Brian Reitzell’s (Stranger than Fiction) furiously pulsating score, each chord creating shivers of startling apprehension with pulse-pounding urgency.
There are some minor annoyances, but most of them aren’t worth going into in any sort of detail. There is one item that did irk me, but as it comes right near the end, and because I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, I can’t say much about this particular element. It has something to do with the climactic showdown, however, and as superbly staged as this face-off between human and vampire may be, there’s a head-scratching reveal right at the end of it that had me at least somewhat rolling my eyes.
Who am I kidding? I liked this movie. A lot. It got under my skin right away. Danny Huston is a dynamite villain, and Slade knows how to make audiences squirm in giddily uncomforting psychotic delight. Everything builds to that crackerjack climactic showdown, and there were moments during its best beats where I wanted to rise to my feet and rhapsodically cheer. 30 Days of Night is a marvelously bloodcurdling horror show I can’t wait to sink my teeth into again.
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)