Saturday, February 16, 2013

30 Days of Night - Alaska, the new Transylvania?

Click here to jump to the end for a SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

The Plot, as told by Bunnies.

Up in Alaska the town of Barrow is preparing for its annual month long winter-night. As the town gets ready, a stranger rows ashore from a large ship. He proceeds to sabotages the town's communications and transportation. Enter Eben Oleson (Josh Harrnet) the sheriff of Barrow. He arrests the stranger with the help of his ex-wife Stella (Melissa George).

The stranger prophecies doom and death in an apparently Cajun accent (says imdb) when someone kills the town's power and communications. Out pop a clan of feral vampires, led by Marlow (Danny Huston), who slaughters most of the town. Eben, his brother, Stella and a few others take shelter in a boarded-up house with a hidden attic.

A week passes and the group is still alive and hidden, despite sneaky vampires using survivors as bait. When a blizzard hits, Eben and the others use its cover to get to the general store. They loose track of time trying to kill a particularly creepy vampire, and to find that the whiteout ended, preventing the survivors from getting back to the attic. Eben decides that everyone should go to the police station and provides a diversion by running to his grandmother's house and blasting vamps with some ultraviolet lights. Eben escapes the house and one epic, vampire killing, tractor ride later he makes it to the station. One of the bitten survivors gets his head lobbed off and then it's back to the waiting game.

Bad-A** vampire-killin' tractor

Two weeks later, Stella and Eben see someone signaling them with a flashlight. They investigate and find Billy who has mercy killed his family. But they take him along anyway to the power station to meet up with the other survivors. On the way Stella saves a girl while Eben and Billy chase a vamp, but Stella and the girl have to hide under an abandoned truck; Eben and Billy both make it to the power station, where they find the other survivors. After killing a vampire, Eben is forced to kill a turning Billy in one of the craziest, goriest beheadings ever.

As the month comes to an end, the sun is due to rise soon and the vampires prepare to burn the town to cover their tracks. Realizing he cannot beat the vampires in his current state, Eben turns himself into a vampire via injection with Billy's infected blood. He confronts Marlow and gives him a hay-maker out the back of his head. The vamps back down and Eben saves Stella from the fire. They embrace as they watch the sun rise and burn Eben into ash.

The Good the Bad and the Gorey
The Good
30 Days of Night brings some strong ingredients to the pot. The setting and theme are the most apparent. The Alaskan landscape is frigid and desolate. The town of Barrow doesn't even have paved roads. Everything there is isolated and entrapped by the freezing weather. Now take that helpless environment and remove daylight, and the scene is perfectly fragile for the looming vampire disaster. And in general I always think it's cool when one of the limitations of a "classic monster" is removed. It makes them that much more powerful and more terrifying.

Now, I'm far from student of photography, but this movie has some really beautiful shots. With the Alaskan snow as a back drop, all of the figures and action pops out with great contrast. At one point the viewer is shown a bird's eye view of the town and the carnage being dealt out upon it. Really cool.

I am a big fan of, what I'll call, the Spielberg-effect. When Steven Spielberg was directing Jaws, his dream was to have a giant mechanical shark to use in every shot. However he didn't have any money for said giant shark robot. Instead he was forced to create the horror of the monster without ever actually showing the monster. It became a relatively common technique in horror and when it is done right, it is truly terrifying. In 30 Days of Night the Spielberg-effect only last till around the halfway mark when everything becomes very in-your-face. But that build up makes for some great shots of people disappearing into darkness. The tease makes finally seeing the awfulness of the vampires that much more awesome. 

The Villains
What I really love about this movie is the Vampires themselves. I've seen vampires of all types, shapes and sizes in the horror world, but these ones hit just the right cord with me. That cord being the freak out cord. Movies often have the very human vampires (The Lost Boys. Let the Right One In) or they might have the demonic monster vampires (from Dusk till Dawn) but 30 Days of Night gives us a spooky medium. 

They are clearly human and seem to have a Gothic/euro fashion sense. Nice dresses and slick suits aren't covered up by winter clothing. The undead don't mind a little cold. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but all the vampire actors are funny looking. I should just say that they aren't the traditional beautiful faces of Hollywood, and it's a good thing. It made the vampires feel that much more strange. It made you want to look at them longer, trying to pick out what's wrong.

The facade of humanity they create breaks down fast. Their eyes are black. Black and unreadable, like a shark. There is something terrifying about the inability to track your enemy's gaze. You don't know what they are looking at or where they will strike. When the vampires speak or scream they do it by sucking air into their lungs. It's a great effect. The undead, speaking backwards because their existence is backwards.

Instead of the neat and tidy two fangs of Dracula, these guys got nasty snark like teeth. They look all mangled  like someone took a hammer to a bulldog's mouth. It makes them savage and bloody. But all the while they try and keep it cool. I loved the image of Marlow slicking back his neat hair with the blood of one of his victims. Chilling.

The Bad
It's hard to make an action movie that takes place over the course of a month. The subtitles actually have to pop up to show you how much time has passed. For a lot of the screen time the survivors are just sitting holed-up in an attic, dinner, police station. In a movie culture of, "Let's go out there and get 'em! EXPLOSIONS " in can be hard to watch a film where the heroes decided just to wait it out. Now that might be more of a problem with plot, but I did just find myself wishing they'd go out and kill so vamps.

Knit picking here. But I wish they would have done more with the human stranger that was essentially a scout for the vampires. Ben Foster is a great actor, but we only get a glimpse of him before he's killed off. I felt it could have added more to the story while offing some more origin explanation for this random group of vampires.

The Gorey
As to be expected of any vampire movie, 30 Days of Night is bloody. The vampires are almost always covered in blood, a result of mauling people with their mangled teeth. There is some good killings of vampires and some sadistic vampire murders. If you are a gore lover though, I doubt you'll be impressed overall (but still check out the beheading at the end).

My Take on it All
Ok, so I know a lot of people hated this movie. A lot of the criticism seemed to point to different points in the plot as "illogical" or "unrealistic" behavior of the characters. Some feel that the plot is pushed or forced unnaturally. Well I understanding thinking a character made a stupid choice, but thinking that a movie is bad because of unrealistic plot choice is stupid. Sometimes the old man wanders off at the most convenient time because we got to move the story along.

And if you don't think it's realistic for the group to spend a week in the attic without food or water, I would have to say, "You're watching a vampire movie dammit!" You're gonna have to suspended some reality in general. And as a general rule for all movies, you have to work with the director. Sometimes they don't want connect all the dots for you. So instead of trying to tear plot holes in movies, try instead to cover them up. Create the justification to make a story work. It makes movies more enjoyable in the end.

But stepping off my soapbox, I really do like this movie. In part it touches on my love of zombie movies. The community undersigned  having to hide and barricade. I just think that's cool. But this movie has decent acting and solid (but perhaps simplistic) plot. Add on top of that a unique setting and the scariest vampires ever and I think you got a really good flick.

30 Days of Night takes us to the small Alaskan town of Barrow. The town goes through a yearly darkness for one month, but this year some blood thirsty visitors are coming to town. This movie offers a unique vampire experience. With it's unique setting, it's a story of survival. While it lacks the romance of Dracula, and the heart pounding action of Resident Evil this flick does scare. With some of my favorite vampires ever, I can promise you some creeps and a few jumps. Pick it up for sure.

And in regards to the sequel...just don't.

Final Grade: B



  1. This is a great write-up, HMM. Very in depth without too manyspoilers and that's a feat unto itself (although one might say that tipping off the killing of Billy and telling how Eben comes to his final end falls into *big time spoiler* territory). ;-]

    What's the most interesting to me is that you and I seem to have been hanging out with very different horror groups - most of the people I talked to absolutely loved this flick whereas I found it to be strong with some weak points that kept it from becoming an instant classic. I think the concept is terrific, the performances are all strong, the f/x are fantastic. I'd say your 7/10 is a fair rating.

    Looking forward to reading more of your stuff! Keep the blood flowing!

    1. Thank you good sir. You are a scholar and a gentlemen.

  2. I'm on the fence about this one. The first time I saw it, I didn't necessarily hate it, but I had a hard time getting into it and I watched the clock a lot. The second time I watched it, I didn't think it was that bad. I do have several friends who love it, and they always give me that shocked look when I saw I wasn't crazy about it before encouraging me to give it another go.

    1. I'd give it another go. If for no other reason than to spite those sissy Twilight vampires.