Retro Review: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007){0}

The vampire has been a powerfully tenacious movie villain for the past century or so, and every once in a while there comes a new flick that adds some much-needed creativity to the classic creature. Veteran of hundreds of movies both half-decent and entirely rotten, the vampire doesn’t get to star in all that many “good films,” but hell, here’s one: David Slade’s 30 Days of Night, which is based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles, and is one of the roughest, toughest, and most novel vampire stories you’re likely to come across.

Here’s the concept that’s so simple it’s almost genius: An Alaskan town (that’s about to be cast into a month’s worth of moonlight) is beset by vampires. The surviving humans must do all they can to survive the month … meanwhile, the vicious monsters are enjoying their own ice-cool salad bar across the town of Barrow, Alaska. And that’s pretty much it, plot-wise, and let’s hear it for “high-concept” ideas that are as cleverly simple in theory as they are ferociously cool in execution. Because I may just be on a “horror high” right now, but I’m thinking 30 Days of Night is the coolest vampire movie since Near Dark. (And Near Dark came out 21 years ago!)

Our hero is the young-but-tough local sheriff (Josh Hartnett), who does all he can to A) figure out who these freakish invaders are, B) save as many townsfolk as possible, and C) protect not only his little brother, but also his estranged wife! Various Barrow-ites bite it in exceedingly graphic manner, but that’s not to say that Niles and his screenwriters don’t have a few unexpected surprises up their sleeve. And visually … the thing’s an awesomely overcast, darkly beautiful, and periodically explicit piece of horror. (As I’ve not read Mr. Niles’ source material, I cannot comment on the ‘faithfulness’ of this adaptation, but the author was kept on as a screenwriter, so I can only assume he’s pleased with the look of the piece.)

It’s partly an action flick, but mainly it’s a grimly lovely piece of ‘survival horror’ that takes place in a uniquely oppressive setting. Horror-makers often have to go to great pains to create a ‘no escape’ setting, and the 30 Day of Night creators do a damn fine job of it: If “tonight” lasted for 720 hours, what would YOU have to do to survive a massive vampire attack? (Oh, and it’s also 20 below outside.) The “gimmick” provides a premise that feels intense and immediate, even when we’re NOT dealing with the frequent bloodsucker attacks. And while 30 Days of Night contains a few characters, plot points, and moments of mayhem that may seem a bit conventional and familiar, Slade keeps the flick chugging along so slickly … you won’t really mind.

The stars of the film — Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster — deliver some fine work, but the REAL stars of 30 Days of Night are the creatures. Let’s just say these aren’t your grandfather’s vampires. Feral, vicious, and almost animalistic in behavior, Niles’ vampires are the real (scary) deal. No capes, smirks, or sex appeal here; just a bunch of near-invincible humanoid beasts who crave human blood — and have located one awesome town in which to feast. (All the vampires are suitably icky, but Danny Huston is quite disturbingly effective as the ferocious “head vamp.”)

This one’s a real treat for the horror fans. 30 Days of Night is a blissfully mean-spirited and aggressively creepy terror tale, and one that’s not content to simply rest on its one good concept. And hats off to Sony for not softening the blows; 30 Days of Night is a powerfully R-rated experience — and I’m thrilled to see a big-time Hollywood studio approach a respected horror property so seriously.

…and now I’m off to pick up a copy of the graphic novel.