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Barrow, Alaska. Once a year the Sun sets and doesnít rise for thirty days, leaving the town in perpetual night. A gang of bloodthirsty vampires use this time to attack the town, and itís up to local sheriff Eben Oleson to keep a small band of survivors alive long enough to see the dawn.
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It goes without saying that Hollywood horror films have had a bad time of it over the last decade. Laden down with pointless remakes, derivative slasher fare and ďtorture porn,Ē it hasnít been easy for horror fans to find their fix of the malicious and macabre. Unless one regularly keeps an eye out for independent fare from Europe or the Far East, there hasnít been a whole lot to be excited about.
This is doubly true for the vampire subgenre. The days of FW Murnauís Nosferatu or Bela Lugosiís genre-defining role as Dracula slowly gave way to a vampire that lacked bite, for want of a better description. The growing concern with showing the sensual nature of the beast only made the vampire less intimidating and therefore far less frightening. Fortunately, there has been a push back against these tired images with vampires of a far more vicious disposition, such as the incredible Let The Right One In and the 2007 graphic novel adaptation 30 Days of Night.
Based on the acclaimed series of books by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night focuses on the small Alaskan town of Barrow. Every year the town is plunged into a month long night, prompting most of its inhabitants to leave. The few dozen that remain receive an unexpected and unwanted visit by a group of ancient, savage vampires, led by the cunning and sadistic Marlow (Huston.) Soon only a small band of survivors remain hidden in Barrow, led by the local sheriff (Hartnett) and his estranged wife (George.) What follows is a nail-biting tale that is part vampire film, part slasher flick, as the humans do their best to avoid being devoured.
Much like 28 Days Later gave a much-needed shot in the arm to the zombie film, 30 Days of Night was a breath of fresh air in a horror genre that had grown dull. Taking inspiration from the artwork of the books, the visual style of the film is immediately striking - cold colours, bathed in blue, only emphasise the startling dark red as the vampires attack and blood starts to flow, while the barren Alaskan landscape has the feel of a painting.
We are eased into this world as the local authorities notice strange occurrences - satellite phones are stolen and burned, sled dogs are killed in their kennels - before the shock of the first attack jolts the viewer. Sladeís use of the camera during the initial assault by the vampires is excellent, utilising a dizzying array of cuts and angles to generate a real feeling of chaos and confusion. The viewerís stomach canít help but turn as people are pulled from their homes and torn apart, turning the dirty white snow red with warm claret.
But what separates 30 Days of Night from a dozen less interesting vampire films are the creatures themselves. Far more feral and destructive than we are used to, they hark back to the grotesque figure of Count Orlok in Murnauís horror classic. They do not follow the traditional rules that we associate with movie vampires, and they do not hunt like traditional movie vampires. Given the cold Northern setting, it is fitting that they attack like a pack of wolves, using their numbers to bring down prey. They have rows of shark-like teeth and speak in an ancient tongue, all the while showing a severe cruelty not often associated with their kind. One scene that has always stood out for me is the packís use of a young woman as bait to lure more humans out. When the plan fails and she prays to God for mercy, Marlow takes a few seconds to look up to the sky in mock fear before uttering with great condescension, ďNo God.Ē
It is this combination of human cunning and animalistic violence that makes the antagonists of this film so remarkably frightening. Danny Huston, as the leader of this mob, captures this essence perfectly, creating a genuinely chilling beast the likes of which we havenít seen in Hollywood horror for some time. While Josh Hartnett is not the most versatile of actors, he gives a good showing of himself as a simple man trying to make sense of a situation where nothing does. The rest of the cast work well with what they have, but in the end this is a movie thatís all about the vampires, and to be fair, perhaps thatís the way it should be (though Ben Foster is excellent as the deranged Stranger.) The plot moves at such a pace that weíre not left waiting long for something to happen, and as we move towards a final confrontation among burning streams of oil, the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat at all times. Credit must also be given for the downbeat conclusion of the film, keeping true to the end of the original book.
David Slade will be returning to vampires when he helms the third instalment of the Twilight series. How one goes from bloodthirsty wild monsters to sparkling Robert Pattinson is anyoneís guess, but one can hope that Sladeís experience with 30 Days of Night will bleed into his adaptation of the Stephenie Meyer novel (no pun intended.) Vicious, exciting, and most importantly frightening, it proves that thereís life in the undead yet.