Wednesday, October 8, 2014

30 Days of Night

It’s no secret—I love horror movies, as I’ve said time and time again, and that’s the one genre I always have in mind when thinking about a title to watch.  My favorite of the bunch is slashers (the Friday the 13th franchise being my favorite), creature features and zombies, so is the werewolf variety and many others.  But the one genre that I enjoy watching is one that needs to be conveyed in a very, very good movie, one that needs to be scary and horrific with a great story and originality as well.  Because if this type of movie doesn’t have everything needed, including the correct rules and legends, to satisfy my horror pallet, then it falls flat.  The genre I’m referring to is the vampire assortment of films and the one that did a damn fine job of introducing a modern take on the lore is 30 Days of Night.

From the outset, when I’d heard about this film and what it was about, it had me intrigued.  I knew it was based on a comic book series of the same name, but I’d found out later was that this story was originally meant to be a movie when conceived, only made into a comic book when studios rejected the treatment.  All that aside, just hearing of how the story is about a group of vampires that take over an Alaskan town that goes through thirty days of darkness due to its fictional polar location had me stoked.  I just thought that it was brilliant and left me wondering how the bloodsuckers would be defeated when there was no sun to kill them.

Excellently directed by David Slade (Hard Candy) and conceived by Steve Niles, the story takes place in the small Alaskan town of Barrows as the residents get ready for the “thirty days of night,” as most of them leave for the winter, not wanting to go through the long period without daylight.  The Stranger (Ben Foster) wanders into town and ends up stealing and destroying all cell phones, incapacitates the town’s helicopter, kills all the sled dogs, and basically cuts the town off from the rest of the world.  Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) starts investigating these strange crimes as darkness falls over the town.  When The Stranger causes raucous in the town’s diner, Sheriff Eben takes him in and locks him up.  Soon after, the remaining residents of Barrows are faced with what is hunting them and have to hide or fight back these powerful monstrosities.

Now, I like this film as a whole—everything within it is awesomely crafted and laid out, giving us one hell of a vampire flick.  But certain aspects of it stand out from the rest, pointing out the originality and creativity of the look of the film. 

First off, the look of the vampires is something we really haven’t seen before.  When most of us think of how vampires look, we think of normal-looking people who happen to have two extra-long canine teeth—sometimes being able to lengthen or shorten them at will—or having the ability to shape-shift their appearance.  Here, in 30 Days of Night, the vampires are simply monsters—large blackened pupils with distorted faces and a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, similar to a shark.  Basically, these aren’t your average vampires where they can easily blend in with the people of town—on the contrary, they stick out like a sore thumb.  They’re a little frightening to look at and you can imagine the fear the residents must feel when they come face-to-face with these creatures.

Another interesting item of note is the language they speak, almost alien as you can’t decipher it as being from another country or even from this world.  The way the vampires speak to one another is sort of guttural and animalistic, matching the way they look.  The fact that we never learn where they come from is an interesting subject to ponder, because there’s not much information given on their origins.  We only learn that they travelled to the area by cargo ship and that The Stranger had helped them somehow.  It’s also fascinating, in a way, that they all appear somewhat well-dressed.  All this adds up to some very scary-looking vampire creatures.

The set of Barrows was very well done, created to look very much like an Alaskan small town, completely isolated and claustrophobic in its compactness.  If it weren’t for the danger and darkness this town endures throughout this film, the burg would seem like a desirable place to live.  But it just goes to show you how, when an element of evil is introduced to an otherwise happy area, a relatively covetable township can turn to hell very quickly.

I also love the slow burn 30 Days of Night displays, how we don’t exactly see what the townies are up against right away, only giving us eerie scenarios where things may or may not be lurking in the shadows.  With the isolation of some of these scenes, it definitely gives you the understanding of trepidation these characters are feeling when they’re faced with it alone.  We get many of these scenes until the whole hoard of vampires is shown…and by that time, the whole town is in the midst of their domination.

If there was anything that I didn’t like, it wasn’t much to veer me from seeing this again when I decided to purchase the Blu-Ray.  Mainly, it was the scenes when the survivors of the town decided to find sanctuary in the attic of one of the abandoned houses.  It wasn’t bad, but you really didn’t get the sense that they were up there that long.  The other hint of that was the fact that we see Sheriff Eben’s beard has grown a little scraggly and if it weren’t for that, the film makes it look like they had gotten bored with waiting in the attic.  They had placed some text in the bottom of the screen that read, “one week later,” or something to that extent, but it still was a bit of a slowdown during the flick.  It’s just one minor complaint that really doesn’t bother me and really doesn’t deter from enjoying this film.

The cast was great, all pulling out believable performances, especially from Ben Foster.  Just about every movie I’ve seen him in I’ve appreciated, as I think he’s got a prodigious career ahead of him.  I had a hard time accepting Josh Hartnett as a sheriff of a small town, thinking he looked too young to be head of a borough, but I grew to accept it as the film went on.  David Slade, as a director, did a phenomenal job with this unique vampire tale, making this film a cut above the rest.

I’ll stop here, for fear of being tempted to give too much more away, and leave you with my final “bit” of 30 Days of Night.

Besides the praise I’ve just given this film in the paragraphs above, I’ll say this.  Whenever I run into anybody, anywhere, who even try to cite any of the Twilight films as a novel look at vampire mythologies, I quickly fire back with, “You want a quintessential vampire movie?  Watch 30 Days of Night!  The best I’ve seen in a long time!”  And I walk away, triumphant.

So that’s another film down in the Cinema Bits library of reviews…thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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