- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here are plenty of good reasons why more horror films should take place in Alaska, but they all come second to the fact that red blood looks fantastic as a warm stain on the cold white snow. This is just one of many stunning visuals that inhabit David Slade’s “30 Days of Night” – a big screen adaptation of the award-winning graphic novel – but it’s a pretty important one when you consider the amount of red ink that fills the pages of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s original vision. The film is also a fairly accurate retelling when compared to other adaptations these days, but if there’s just one thing that it’ll be best remembered for, it’s the triumphant return of vampires to the horror genre. Say goodbye to metrosexual neck-biters like Angel and Lestat – the ferocious variety that haunt your nightmares are back in all their bloody glory.
The film takes place in Barrow, Alaska, a town located so far north that every year it experiences an entire month without sunlight. Most of the townspeople leave during this extended time of darkness, but several remain – an open invitation to bloodthirsty vampires if there ever was one. When a chain of vandalism (melted satellite phones, murdered sled dogs and destroyed helicopters) leads to the arrest of a creepy stranger (Ben Foster) warning those of the impending attack, sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) has little reason to believe him. But when a pack of hungry vampires suddenly comes out to feast, Eben soon discovers that the stranger was telling the truth. Stuck in the town with nowhere to go, the survivors have only one choice: hole up in the best hiding place they can find and hope to God the sun comes back sooner rather than later.
While it may not sound like “30 Days of Night” is entirely exciting, trust me, it is. The opening vampire attack is a gory rampage of ferocious bites and splattered blood (an image Slade captures beautifully with an overhead tracking shot of the town’s destruction), while the rest of the film is littered with stupid humans making fatal mistakes and unlucky vampires catching an axe or shotgun shell to the head. Don’t think for a second that this means the survivors have a fighting chance, however, because Slade is quick to display just how superhuman his breed of vamps really are. These aren’t the romanticized versions that have plagued much of the genre for the past few decades, but rather dark and twisted versions that have also been given speed enhancements a la Danny Boyle ("28 Days Later"). True, it’s not exactly a reinvention of the classic movie creature, but it’s a much-needed change that is guaranteed to make vampires scary again.
As for the material itself, it was only natural that changes would occur during the transfer from book-to-screen, but thankfully, Slade has managed to retain the basic story and themes of Niles’ groundbreaking graphic novel, including a very anti-Hollywood ending and one of the coolest death scenes of the past decade. Still, several characters and events are added in order to beef up the script, while the novel’s two lead vampires (Vincent and Marlowe) are combined into a single villain, played by Danny Huston. Anyone that has read the novel before will know that this means an entire subplot has been removed from the story, but it actually works to the advantage of the film, since leaving the Alaskan locale could have pulled the viewer out of the chilling atmosphere they worked so hard to create.
In fact, if there’s just one minor complaint that would have served the film better, it’s the 113-minute runtime. Clearly longer than the original novel (which is a mere 104 pages), the movie suffers from a tiresome second act that spends a little too much time on the townspeople’s survival plan. It’s strange to think that the film’s writers (of which there were many, including Stuart Beattie and Niles himself) had trouble trimming down the script when the novel is already short to begin with; especially considering that fellow writers (like Steve Kloves of the “Harry Potter” series) spend so much time cutting out major chunks of action in their adaptations.
Still, when half of your movie depends on suspense, it’s sometimes helpful to let those longer and quieter moments brew. Plus, it’s not like an additional 15 minutes hurt the final product beyond repair. “30 Days of Night” was already one of the most original graphic novels of the past 20 years, and with the help of David Slade’s slick visuals and the first solid performance in Josh Hartnett’s career, the film version transcends most horror clichés to become an instant genre classic.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Though it may not look like much, the single-disc release of “30 Days of Night” offers up a killer collection of DVD extras. The audio commentary with Rob Tapert and stars Josh Harnett and Melissa George is lively and informative, while the 50-minute making-of documentary covers everything from pre-production to SFX, stunts and more. Also included is an episode of the vampire anime “BLOOD +."