30 Days of Night
2007, R, 113 min. Directed by David Slade. Starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Danny Huston, Manu Bennett, Craig Hall, Joel Tobeck.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
There's nothing in the vampire epic 30 Days of Night that approaches the queasy pederast horrors of Slade's previous film, Hard Candy, a movie of dubious moral clarity but undeniable punch. The classic folkloric terrors that have translated so seamlessly into the medium of film – vampires, werewolves, and ghosts – can no longer hold a hand of glory to all that real-world darkness outside the theatre. These days, it's dark everywhere. Which makes Slade's wild, often exhilarating neo-Western ride into frostbit vampirism something of a respite, albeit one awash in gore. The bloodsuckers in 30 Days of Night arrive as a nomadic gang of guttural, howling Euro-vamps who act like they ate Udo Kier for breakfast and are now sniffing around for the Joe Dallesandro buffet. Adapted from Steve Niles' graphic novel, the film's high-concept stroke of genius lies not with its vampire clan but with the setting: the tiny hamlet of Barrow, Alaska, where residents do indeed experience the title's lengthy nightfall. On the eve of this yearly perma-night, Sheriff Eben Oleson (Hartnett) incarcerates a ratty, possibly insane drifter (Foster), who has arrived, Renfield-like, to herald the coming of far worse. Cut off from the outside world by the naturally inclement weather and wholly unnatural sabotage, the sheriff and a handful of Barrow's citizenry (including George as his estranged wife, Stella) are systematically attacked by the bloodsuckers. So much so that they're eventually forced to hole up in squalid attics and crawl spaces, able to do little more than peek out the windows and wait for the faraway sunrise. That's a smart reversal of the classic vampire's casket trope, bringing to mind both Stephen King's Salem's Lot and Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. Hartnett is stoically adequate here, but he's no Gary Cooper, and his wounded alpha-male relationship with Stella comes off as a less-nuanced version of Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's pseudo-couple in The Abyss. As befits the proto-Western template, the Nosferatu gang is led by the hellishly good Huston, whose Slavic-sounding Marlow growls orders to his underlings and dishes out spontaneous ultraviolence like Slobodan Milosevic meeting Henry Fonda's Frank in the devil's cut of Once Upon a Time in Hell. At its core, 30 Days of Night is a siege Western relocated to the frozen north. It's bad guys in black, and red blood on white snow, with Hartnett's lone, heartsick sheriff the only thing standing between unsure love and certain death.