30 Days of Night was one of the movies I was really looking forward to this fall. This was the horror flick that was going to set things back on the right track, with gore, scary vampires and one creepy setting - an Alaskan town where it stays dark for 30 days.
Sadly, 30 Days of Night is not the masterpiece I was hoping for. It is entertaining, with some decent acting and plenty of gore, but director David Slade really ruined a good thing. This Josh Hartnett-starring movie could have been so much more, but instead we have to settle for a relatively predictable and not particularly scary vampire flick that really adds nothing new to the genre.
First, the positives. Josh Hartnett is pretty good. Not amazing, but pretty good. He's had several good roles now, but has yet to break into the leading man role. He carries 30 Days of Night quite nicely, bringing a somber fierceness to what would usually be a very ordinary character. Melissa George is decent as the love interest, though she doesn't really get much to work with. Ben Foster, who has taken to absolutely seedy roles (Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma and now this), is delightfully morbid as the harbinger of death.
Those looking for carnage should find a moderate amount here. The movie is full of guts and beheadings, though surprisingly, Slade seems to have edited out a lot of the gory moments. A lot of beheadings are not shown on screen, and you can definitely find better gore elsewhere. Still, the vampires spend two hours covered in blood, and the best aspect of the film is that it can be considered consistently bloody.
Unfortunately, there are just so many little things working against the film that it's hard to take entirely seriously by the end of the flick. The movie has the production values and budget to be good, but Slade (Hard Candy) just doesn't get things working. His camera work is all over the place; if you thought Paul Greengrass was frenetic in his approach to the Bourne films, just wait until you see Slade's handheld work here. Oftentimes, when the vampires attack, you can barely see what's going on as things are shaking so much. Beyond that, the editing is atrocious. As mentioned before, it appears as though large chunks of gore were removed from the film at the last second, and the result is a choppy picture for more reasons than one. Not only do some scenes seem broken up, but the scene-to-scene transitions can often be extremely jarring. Slade will jump right into the middle of an action scene without any introduction or setup, and then return to some slower scene a moment later. Better editing would have gone a long way.
What really hurts the movie is that the whole introduction to the vampires is just poorly done. Slade smartly leaves the vampires in the darkness for the first little while, but then abruptly shows a scene of them conversing with each other. The town is torn apart quickly - too quickly - and we never really get to see the characters discover what is going on. All at once, they seem to know exactly what the problem is. 30 Days of Night would have been a dozen times better had there been more foreshadowing and more discovery; the audience should get to learn along with the characters.
Furthermore, the vampires aren't nearly as scary as they looked in the previews. While the makeup is good, Slade overuses these monsters so much that there's not much excitement about them after the first twenty minutes. They are creepy at first, but they spend most of the movie walking around with their mouths open and screeching that it's hard to find them menacing. It's a real shame Slade didn't handle them better, because the makeup department really did do a good job.
Lastly, the ending is terrible. Hartnett's character makes a decision that just isn't implausible, and completely unnecessary. If you don't notice, after the humans make their last stand, the sun rises no more than ten minutes later. Throughout the movie the characters keep talking about how they have to change locations to be safer, but if you survive for 15 days in one place, why not going for another 15 days? Their sense of urgency is sometimes baffling. Anyway, I sidetracked myself from the ending... it is just stupid and cheesy.
30 Days of Night is a decent vampire film if you're looking for some carnage and action, but if you're expecting a gritty, scary and non-cheesy horror film, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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