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United States, 2007
Directed By: David Slade
Written By: Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rated R for strong horror violence and language
Indulge me in an educational moment, if you will. In a film’s credits, when you see writers’ names joined by an ampersand (’&’) it means they collaborated as a team. When you see them joined by an ‘and’ it means they wrote separately (didn’t you always want to know that?). The writer credit for 30 Days of Night says a lot about it: “Written by Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson.” Steve Niles is the man who conceived of and wrote the original graphic novel this film is based on. He did the first version of the script, which someone didn’t like: strike 1, tack on an ‘and.’ Then Stuart Beattie (Collateral) took a stab. Nuh-uh, add ‘and’ number two. Finally, Brian Nelson was (probably) brought on to ‘fix’ the script. As hard as it might be to believe, this is not the ideal way to write a movie.
Perhaps what is most disappointing is that director David Slade and Brian Nelson’s previous collaboration, Hard Candy, was one of the best films of 2006. If you get nothing else out of this review but a burning desire to see Hard Candy (it stars Ellen Page of Juno renown) then I will have done my job. I’m not sure where things went wrong with 30 Days, but the combine derailed at some point, smashing through a pack of blood drenched vampires along the way (if you see the movie you’ll realize how clever obvious my analogy is).
Plots don’t get more high concept than this: in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States, the sun disappears for 30 days each year. Some enterprising vampires pick up on this and decide to treat themselves to a month long buffet. In fact, the plot is so high concept that some of you will see it regardless of what I write. I could say it was like pouring sand into your bare eyeball and it wouldn’t make a difference (or I could say it was like having your head chopped off with an axe after a vampire bit you…heh heh, there I go again, being clever obvious).
Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, and other people star as the residents who must stay one step ahead of the fangs. None of them are memorable apart from their deaths (and then not very much), although this certainly has more to do with the script than with their performances. While the first fifteen minutes are spent developing Hartnett and George’s estranged relationship (I was briefly interested), once the blood starts flowing it all goes out the window like so much bathwater and baby.
The only things this film really had to get right, however, were the scares and the vampires. On the former you get a few decent gore-flinch moments, but on the latter you’re left wishing for a bit more realism. And while I realize that asking for ‘realistic’ vampires is an oxymoron of the highest degree, I can’t help but wish that Hollywood would put a bit more logical thought into its movie monsters. For example, all the vampires speak some grating guttural language that is borderline silly, but they all dress like they came from a Vera Wang fashion show. If they’re going to bother wearing suits, couldn’t they at least make an effort to speak English? In a better movie such trite criticisms would be left by the wayside, but here they become all you remember.
Finally, to finish beating the mutilated snow dog carcass (whew, 3 for 3 baby, I am firing on all cylinders today!), the most disagreeing part of the film is its use of children. Horror movies have historically employed kids to great effect (The Omen, The Sixth Sense, The Ring), but they’ve always used them as central characters. Here they exist only to serve the grotesque. Slade covers them in blood, turns them into vampires, and chops off their heads. Its not horror, its exploitation, and I found it disgusting for all the wrong reasons.
As genre fare goes, perhaps 30 Days of Night isn’t such a bad trip, but while you could certainly do worse, you could definitely do better. Pass this one by and instead rent Hard Candy, a horror film without blood but a million times scarier (and yes, that is a technical measurement).