Sunday, October 14, 2007

Movie Review: 30 Days of Night

Director: David Slade
Screenwriter(a): Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson

I'm not much of a fan of gore porn and unfortunately, most of the "horror" films that have come out in the past decade have fallen into this rather unfortunate category. Blood, guts, and over-drawn scenes of torture have replaced tension, suspense, and subtlety in the quest to frighten and entertain movie goers.

I regret to inform you that the film, 30 Days of Night, based on Steve Niles' graphic novel of the same title, finds itself at times skimming into this realm of blood and guts. I am happy to inform you, however, that other elements of the film completely redeem it and make you forgive its graphic displays of violence.

The movie tells the story of a group of vampires who travel to Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States. For one month out of each year, the sun does not rise in this part of the world. A perfect place to take a vacation if you're allergic to sunlight, no? Josh Hartnett and Michelle George star as the hero's of this tale, which also stars Ben Foster, Danny Huston, and Mark Boone, Jr.

A large part of the film's success is due to the superb acting. Josh Hartnett is rightfully notorious for being rather bland and devoid of personality on screen. But his mellow energy is perfect for this role, belying a sense of calm and reason, giving a necessary strength to this common police officer cum hero. Michelle George is exquisite. Despite her pretty face, one never doubtsfor a moment that she isa tough woman, used to, and capable of, surviving the bitter colds and lonelinesses of the northernmost reaches of Alaska. Ben Foster, who I've loved since his days on Flash Forward, is mostly annoying with his overly contrived and unconvincing "accent." His performance is solid, but disappointingly overshadowed by the manner in which he chooses to speak.

The true acting prizes belong to the movie's antagonists: the vampires who invade this dark town. Their bizarre make-up could be laughable in the wrong contexts. However, these vampires, at times taking their cues from the recent influx of mainstream zombie films like 28 Days Later, speak little, but say much. Their movements and mannerisms are often comical, silly, causing them to resemble the dark clowns that haunt many a child's nightmares. But don't get me wrong: these are not to be confused with the clowns of Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The actors (and actresses) manage to frighten merely by cocking their heads to the side and opening their fang-filled maws. The laughter rising past your lips is a nervous, frightened laughter.

All of the displays of extreme violence in the film seems to be done as a service to its target audience, its assumed fan base: readers of the 30 Days of Night comics, horror fans, cynical young people with no interest in the Anne Rice take on the vampire myths. However, that is not the film's only trick. It is also full of tension and suspense, as the few remaining humans hide and plot and plan in efforts to survive.

Unfortunately, the suspense was not created to its full potential. Without the day stamps that occasionally appear in the bottom of the screen and without monitoring Josh Hartnett's unsightly facial hair, it is often difficult to tell accurately guage the passage of time. This could be a good tool to show the mental turmoil of our protagonists, but the pacing just does not work. As in the American version of Insomnia, a movie also set in Alaska but during the time set when the sun does not set, 30 Days of Night doesn't quite make the best use of the phenomenon which has the ability to wreak havoc on a person's ability to tell time and tear apart the fabric of one's sanity. The film just feels poorly paced. There are often times, such as when Hartnett and George see their enemies for the first time, when the moment would have been much more poignant if it had been put off, extended, for just a little longer, if the filmmakers would have been comfortable giving the audience just a few more seconds of nothingness.

Overall, the movie is frightening and exciting and invigorating. The changes made from the graphic novel were all quite wise, creating a film that is even more intriguing than its source materials.

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