30 Days of Night

November 15th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Fans of comic books must think all their Christmases are coming at once. Long dismissed as trenchcoat-wearing, obsessive and socially inept, they get a little cooler and sexier all the time as another big screen Hollywood adaptation hits screens.

Usually, a wannabe director will start with a low budget horror/slasher with excessive gore to get the attention of audiences and the Hollywood moneymen. Then they’ll move onto affecting drama when the filmmaking fraternity accepts them and they’ve become ‘serious’ directors.

Brit David Slade did the opposite, bringing us last years’ incendiary Hard Candy and then moving onto the lavish, blood-soaked vision of Perth artist Ben Templesmith’s comic strip.

Aided with a script by another Aussie — powerhouse screenwriter Stuart Beattie — Slade is faithful to the visuals of Templesmith’s work. But as this year’s glossy but empty 300 showed us, great visuals do not a movie make. And while 30 Days of Night looks great (as great on screen as in comic), it needed a better story and better characters to make it a great movie.

Slade and Beattie get it mostly right. There are patches of flab and the whole thing feels a little undisciplined and less of a cult profile than you imagine its comic book origins enjoys.

But it’s still a great concept and a pretty good ride as the remote far northern Alaskan town of Barrow high above the Arctic Circle descends into its month-long night the same way it does every year.

Only this year, an enigmatic stranger has appeared to cause trouble at the local bar, somebody has butchered all the sledding dogs in town and cut off all communication with the outside world. The images of the town enshrouded in a forbidding cold and deepening darkness are effective and chilling, plunging us into the world straight out of Templesmith’s comic where every surface is just another shade of dour grey… except when things turn red.

This year, a band of vampires are attacking Barrow, and when they decimate the town in an orgy of bloodletting, we’re left with a well-trod survival story from a hundred other horror movies as the sheriff (Hartnett), his estranged wife (George) and a group of lucky ones hole up to try to wait out the 30 days of night as the undead systematically hunt them down.

The most refreshing thing about Templesmith’s vision — and Beattie and Slade’s handling of it — is in rethinking the vampire myth. These are the beasts Bram Stoker read about in dark ages literature from Eastern Europe, borrowing only parts of them and leaving his anti-hero Dracula the Victorian era’s answer to a metrosexual. 30 Days’ villains are like giant feral rats, their faces and claws streamlined and lethal, brutally savaging their victims like real killer monsters. The film gives them a sort of hierarchy, creed and even an ancient language that again doesn’t suit the movie as much as it did the comic.

It’s gloriously gruesome and bloody, giving the film an edge against almost all other vampire films of the last decade, and some leaner, less conventional storytelling could have created the cult classic the poster makes it look like.


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