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This review was written for the theatrical release of “30 Days of Night.”
A terrific horror premise goes begging in the garbled Halloween offering “30 Days of Night,” an especially gory re-imagining of the vampire myth based on a hot-property graphic novel.
Director David Slade’s follow-up to the pedophile revenge thriller “Hard Candy” — which itself was a kind of horror show — is set in an Alaskan frontier town that’s plunged into darkness for 30 days each year, making it a subzero nirvana for a roving pack of bloodsuckers.
The vampires look great. And the story line sticks closely enough to the comic book by Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles to please their large fanboy following. But dramatically, the film is a shambles, with whiplash-inducing lurches in tone and pacing that make it seem as if portions were edited out of sequence. Those expecting a clever frightfest from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures will be disappointed to find something more akin to an excruciatingly long Marilyn Manson clip.
Josh Hartnett, facial features as frozen as the landscape, is out of his depth as Eben, the sheriff of Barrow, whose citizens either flee for friendlier climes during the monthlong night or batten down and bear it. Eben’s estranged wife Stella (an impressively committed Melissa George) is one of those trying to escape, but she misses the last plane out and is stranded as the sun goes down. Meanwhile, a filthy, babbling stranger (Ben Foster) arrives in town and, after trying to order a plate of raw meat at the diner, warns gleefully of impending doom.
The power is cut, telephone lines go down, dogs are savagely slaughtered, and the scene is set for the arrival of the undead. Their entrance is underwhelming.
Each barely glimpsed vampire attacks in a cheap-looking flurry of quick-cuts and overloud crash of discordant sound. It slowly dawns on the townsfolk that something is amiss. This buildup, strangely devoid of suspense or even continuity, abruptly plunges into an all-out feeding frenzy in which the bloodthirsty hordes sink their fangs into anything that moves.
Soon there’s no one left but a small band of underwritten characters hiding out in an attic. It’s here that the movie really falls flat. What should have been a claustrophobic, slowly intensifying siege sequence in the vein of John Carpenter’s similarly snowbound “The Thing” becomes hopelessly scattered as Eben and his charges roam all over town, gathering supplies from a store, rescuing the odd survivor or performing gruesome mercy killings. The narrative gets slacker by the minute, pausing clumsily now and then for a character’s backstory or some incongruous flirting between Eben and Stella.
But those vampires are something, adding a new variable to a legend that has grown musty with age. Faithfully adapted from Templesmith’s drawings, they’re feral and brutish and only vaguely human — a different kind of creepy from the traditional gothic figure who seduces and charms before killing. They communicate in screeches and primitive gibberish, though the charismatic leader Marlow (Danny Huston) speaks a strange, guttural — and subtitled — language.
Taking into account the degree of difficulty in shooting a film set at night in the snow, the production looks distractingly phony with a couple of first-rate location shots serving to highlight the studio-bound appearance of the rest.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT
Ghost House Pictures, Columbia, Dark Horse Entertainment
Director: David Slade
Screenwriters: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson
Based on the comic by: Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith
Producers: Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert
Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Mike Richardson, Aubrey Henderson
Director of photography: Jo Willems
Production designer: Paul Denham Austerberry
Music: Brian Reitzell
Co-producers: Chloe Smith, Ted Adams
Costume designer: Jane Holland
Editor: Art Jones
Eben: Josh Hartnett
Stella: Melissa George
Marlow: Danny Huston
The Stranger: Ben Foster
Beau: Mark Boone Junior
Running time — 128 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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