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30 Days of Night

dir: David Slade
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The vampire genre of flicks has truly been played out. There’s pretty much nowhere left to go, is there?

Every variation on the theme has been done to death already, hasn’t it? Vampires as romantic tortured souls, vampires as soulless vermin, vampires running the world in secret, vampires as aliens, vampirism as a metaphor for sex, AIDS, addiction, vampirism as a metaphor for capitalism, communism and every other –ism you can imagine.

So I guess it was time to bring it all back to basics and just have them as marauding monsters bent on killing everyone they can like the scum that they are.

30 Days of Night is pretty much Assault on Precinct 13 stretched out over a month of a far northern Alaskan winter where perpetual darkness reigns. Hence the 30 days of night. The town of Barrow is emptying of most of its residents on the last day before the very heart of its arctic winter. Coincidentally enough, a boatload of vampires, who aren’t fans of sunlight, intend to descend upon the town and kill every single person they find from that very moment onwards. A mysterious stranger called The Stranger (Ben Foster) has been committing some strange acts of vandalism and carnage, including killing all the town’s dogs, stealing all the mobile phones and burning them, and sabotaging communications, power and vehicles in preparation for their arrival.

The Sheriff of Barrow, Eben Oleson, (Josh Hartnett) is a particularly beady-eyed but diligent sort, so when the shit hits the fan, he tries and tries to help everyone he can. But these vampires, they’re just so nasty. They’re more animalistic than per usual, and clearly intend to kill everyone in the town, pretty much on the first night, because they’re either really hungry or they’re not much for long term planning.

Their leader is the one who looks the meanest. Maybe that’s how their hierarchy is ordered. It makes sense to me. Marlowe (Danny Huston) speaks in a guttural ancient language made even more garbled by the large pointy dentures he has in his mouth. He controls the tribe of other vampires who mostly screech like they’re animals. And he’s the best dressed one as well. And he looks just darling when he’s smearing himself with the blood of his victims.

Now, even by the time that the humans have clued in to what’s going on, they’ve pretty much realised they’re in dire straits and with little chance of surviving their unique circumstances. Eben, as the leader of a rag-tag band of survivors that includes his annoying ex-wife (Melissa George), to reassure them reiterates two points he thinks stand in their favour: the reason why they live in Barrow is because no-one else can, and that they know Barrow and this inhospitable part of the world better than anyone else could, especially the vampire hoard.

He and the rest of them then proceed to completely undermine everything he’s just said by completely contradicting the spirit and the letter of his main contentions. Thus begins an agonisingly dull war of attrition as the humans impatiently wait for the day when the sun rises again, and the vampires patiently wait to eat every single one of them before they destroy the town completely and erase any evidence of their existence.

It’s a great idea for a siege / survival kind of story. It’s implemented pretty weakly. As scary as the idea might be, and as chilling as a particularly strong, gruesome scene is when a bird’s eye view shot shows the battle between the incredulous and the monstrous going the vampire’s way, it’s just not a very compelling premise. Killing the entire food supply in any given area, especially one completely isolated by the depths of an artic winter, on the first night, really doesn’t make that much sense.

But that, and hundreds of other little implausibilities shouldn’t really destroy an audience’s ability to enjoy something like this. The grim atmosphere does go towards creating a certain amount of tension. And, despite the presence of multiple guns, the humans never really seem like they’re going to survive unless they go all Ann Frank and hide in the attic for as long as they can.

Of course, when you create a ‘safe’ haven for them, you then have to come up with plausible reasons to force them out of there, otherwise the flick isn’t really going to be that interesting. The flick has hits and misses when it comes to having Our Heroes do things that make sense, but it didn’t annoy too much, despite the fact that the flick is half an hour longer than it needs to be.

The two strongest parts of the flick for me, or at least the two things I liked about it, were Danny Huston and Ben Foster. Danny Huston is great in every role he does, no matter how minor. Here, despite garbling in an idiotic language, he manages to be every bit as compelling, frightening and strange as he is in any of his more serious roles, as in The Proposition or Birth.

Ben Foster plays a lunatic in practically every movie he’s in, and he is therefore the only good reason to watch most of these flicks. He finds new ways to play crazy with each successive role, be it Hostage, Alpha Dog or 3:10 to Yuma, and he is always, always compelling. Here he uses an accent almost as garbled as the one used by the vampires, but his role as the facilitator, as the Renfield to their Count, is never less than entertaining.

The rest is, well, people running around and hiding, people being cowardly and people being heroic, and others ripping throats out and gorging on the bloody mess left behind. As vampire movies go, it’s not utterly awful, but then again, vampire movies are predominately shithouse. 99 per cent of the fuckers aren’t worth watching sober.

I’m not sure if 30 Days of Night is worth watching sober, but I didn’t hate it. It doesn’t rank up there with the best, but at least it wasn’t excruciatingly stupid or unbearably dull. It was only intermittently stupid and dull, which is more than I can hope for from this genre.

6 ways in which you should never get off the boat out of 10

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“When man meets a force he can't destroy, he destroys himself. What a plague you are.” – 30 Days of Night.

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