Directed by: David Slade
Premise: A pack of vampires descends on a small town during the month-long absence of sunlight in the Alaskan winter. After the initial attack kills most of the residents, a local police officer (Josh Hartnett) gathers the survivors and they spend the month hiding from the vampires and waiting for the sun to rise.
What Works: Some of the visuals in 30 Days of Night are very striking and many of the best elements of the film are found in Danny Huston as the vampire leader. His performance combines the ghoulish night stalker of the classic silent film Nosferatu with the contemporary, sophisticated bloodsuckers seen in films like Blade. Huston plays the leader as a sort of philosopher-king and the movie would have been much more interesting if it had spent more time with this character.
What Doesn’t: As it is, 30 Days of Night is a letdown, because it takes a great premise and botches it. Instead of a month, the duration of the narrative seems to last just a few days or hours. The film is unable to convey the passage of time and the characters, both human and vampire, do not seem changed from the start of the story to the end of it. The film shows a lot of influence from apocalyptic zombie pictures like 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead but unlike those films, 30 Days of Night does not utilize the plausibly interesting survival elements of its story. It does not answer how the characters manage to provide for basic needs like heat and food throughout the month, nor does the film incorporate those needs into the survival story. The film also has flat characters and the relationships among the humans and vampires are never given any texture or depth that would make the audience care about whether the characters live or die. As a horror film, 30 Days of Night just isn’t very scary, in part because of the lack of empathy for its heroes but also because none of the pacing is handled well. The film fails to build up from its opening to the main attack on the town, and every subsequent fight and chase scene afterward lacks tension or purpose, which these scenes might have had if the characters were pursuing some goal that would aid to their survival through the month. The influence of the zombie film is also apparent in the portrayals of the vampires. With the exception of Huston’s character, very little distinguishes them from zombies in their behavior and actions. This is a problem because the story does not play to the strengths of vampire mythology, like their seductiveness or intelligence, and is unable to use the strengths of the zombie films, like their unstoppable numbers or bottomless appetite.
Bottom Line: 30 Days of Night is a disappointment. Although it features some lush production values, the story is a mix of bland characters and wasted opportunities. Audiences would be better off renting some classic vampire or zombie films than spending their time on this failed hybrid.
Episode: #163 (October 28, 2007)