Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Movie Review : 30 Days of Night

It is hard for me to articulate what scares me nowadays. I’m definitely squeamish when it comes to snakes, loud pushy drag queens intimidate me and clowns in full makeup makes my skin crawl but they don’t really make me shiver with fright. Gory horror movies have likewise lost some of their luster with me over the years as I guess I’ve become jaded by the sight of arterial spray coming from ripped throats. I think that the last time that I truly left the cinema feeling really creeped out of my skin was after watching the first “Blair Witch Project” film. Fortunately for me, the atmospherics in films from the Asian horror cinema genre still could be depended on to provide me with a dose of real chills down my spine but I fear even that might become jaded for me after a while.

“30 Days of Night” comes to our shores with the tagline that it would be the scariest film you see this year. Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel written by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, the film is set in Barrow, the northern most town in Alaska, where the sun sets and never rises for 30 days in the middle of winter. During the enduring month long night, Barrow get overrun by a pack of vicious vampires led by Marlow (Danny Huston) who mercilessly start to butcher the population of this isolated town. Survivors, led by the Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Fire Marshall Stella Oleson (Melissa George), has to survive the 30 days of darkness that surround them and hope that the vampires don’t find them before they get to see the sun again.

Directed by David Slade (“Hard Candy”), “30 Days of Night” did for vampires what “28 Days Later” did for zombies by returning them to the mold of the vicious bloodthirsty monstrous last seen in “Nosferatu”. The vampires in this movie were not tortured by their bloodlust like their brethrens in Anne Rice novels or were they the stylish high kicking martial art masters as seen in the “Blade” or “Underworld” film franchises. With their high pitch screams (which did get more annoying than terrifying after the first few times) and reptilian like facial features, these vampires were truly the kind you don’t want to be standing behind you in any circumstances. They hardly speak which means audiences don’t get much of a backstory for them and when they do it would be in an dialect specifically created for this film. The would rather play around with their meal rather than trying to turn them into vampires to keep them company.

Unfortunately for me, this was the only interesting aspect of the film for me with the exception of the memorable CGI crane shot they did to show the vampires taking the population of Barrow from their homes to slaughter them. Most of the non-vampire characters were blandly developed with most supporting characters undistinguishable from each other. The few characters that did get a little more screen time from the others were not that interesting to watch either. A lot of them seemed to fall into general horror movies archetypes that one could be forgiven for knowing before hand which one of them would be killed by the vampires first.

Pacing of the film was another aspect of the film that I felt could have been done better. Unlike “The Thing”, another film set in the snowy expense with a monster running around killing people, the tension in the “30 Days of Night” annoyingly comes in fits and starts. At several points in the film, the action grounds to a halt as the survivors start talking among themselves without really adding to the overall feeling of desperation of their predicament. Character revelations comes without any particular rhyme or reason other than to flesh out a character just before he/she meets their gory end. The action in the film also skipped long time frames with the things happening only on the 7th, 18th and 27th days which makes viewers wonder what they did the rest of the days. I was not expecting to see what they did on every day of their 30 days confinement but it would made for a more enjoyable viewing if we see their increasing desperation as the days roll by. Instead, what we get to see is this motley crew repeating the same cycle out hiding out then going out to a new location only to get someone else in the group killed.

Gore fans might be placated by the amount of gore on screen but I guess one could say that it was a bit tame compared to some of the other more gory films that have came before. There were more than a few decapitation scenes since cutting their heads off was the only way to kill these vampires. Vampire feeding were shown in very quick and messy cut away shots that emphasized the vicious nature of their attacks. Tons of blood gets splattered all over the place as the vampires seemed to be very messy blood drinkers who don’t really mind wasting the blood even though the existing people in Barrow might not last them the whole 30 days of darkness. There were a few action set pieces in the film that involved inventive ways of dispatching the vampires but they came in very few and far in between to sustain gore fan’s attentions.

I was told that some viewers hated the ending because of what happened to the main lead. To me the predictable ending was the only way that the conflict would have ended and to see anything else would definitely invalidate the whole movie. I just wished that there was much more of a character struggle to come to the decision that the main lead had to take instead of appearing to be the most convenient thing to do. After watching “30 Days of Night”, I am sorely tempted to get the original graphic novel that the movie was based upon to get more satisfying story to sink my teeth in. Weak characterization and pacing did the most injustice to a fairly imaginative premise. The film would be something that you would watch on a free afternoon but don’t expect too much from it.

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