After five terrible movies Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures has finally taken the plunge into R-rated horror and produced what inevitably is their best film ever. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, which was created as a comic book by Steve Niles, is also one of Sony’s (Columbia Pictures) best horror films in years. Fans of the comic book can rejoice in this adaptation, which takes a simple idea and transforms it into a compelling work of art, as well as a bloodbath of insane proportions.
Set in the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, in the extreme northern hemisphere, which is plunged into complete darkness annually for an entire month. When most of the inhabitants head south for the winter, a mysterious group of strangers appear: bloodthirsty vampires, ready to take advantage of the uninterrupted darkness to feed on the town’s residents. As the night wears on, Barrow’s Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), and an ever-shrinking group of survivors must do anything they can to last until daylight.
David Slade is a genius. There I said it. After the suspenseful HARD CANDY, there was no doubt that this commercial director veteran was the real deal, someone who can keep an audience on the edge of their seat for an hour and a half. With 30 DAYS he not only shows off his ability to create tension, but also invents a look for the film that has never been done before. This truly is a comic book come to life, like something right out of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The cinematography is stunning and the cold, desolate blue atmosphere brings you right into Barrow with our lead characters. There are scenes that literally make you feel like you are standing right next to Stella or Eben hiding from the bloodthirsty vampires. His use of crane shots put the small town on display in a single shot showing us just how tiny this town really is. Contrary to giving us atmosphere from a distance, he pulls as tight as he possibly can into our actors faces so we can see exactly how they are feeling. And then watching the vampires pounce through the shadows in between shots completed the authentic comic book look. David Slade has brought this world to life, and made it completely believable.
In addition to the look of the film, Slade works the audience in the same way that our leads are experiencing this horrific situation. He literally brings the audience into the movie thus creating a level of commitment to the characters and giving them the feeling that if the characters live, they live. His use of gore is built directly into the necessity of the moment at hand and nothing appears to just be there as a gag. For example one of the lead characters becomes infected, someone we really learn to love – he has to die. Eben walks him into the back room and shuts the door, and all we get is sound effects and a close up of one of the girls’ eyes with tears brewing. It’s a heartbreaking moment that would have been cheapened with a heavy use of blood. Slade also understands that there are some pay-off moments where he delivers some of the most twisted gore in a long time. We see a character get half his arm cut off and watch him scream as the bone protrudes out of the flesh. And in one of the most exciting moments of the film we see a machine tear dozens of vampires apart, limb from limb. In short, 30 DAYS has it all. It’s an axe to the face, literally.
Furthermore, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT has phenomenal acting, which only aids in the believability of the film. Danny Huston is probably one of the most chilling lead vampires in the history of film. He speaks a created dialect that nauseates as much as it intrigues. He also speaks it, so well, through the insane teeth that take up his entire mouth. His deathly stare shoots a chill down your spine and he gets you to giggle while he uses blood to sleek back his hair. He is simply wonderful; the staple vampire. And let’s not forget Ben Foster as the Stranger, who steals the show during the first act. He plays “that creepy dude” who sends the message for the tribe of vampires and sets the traps for the humans. He’s the Igor to the Frankenstein. Melissa George is never anything less than superb and Josh Hartnett is better than everyone thinks. The evolution of Hartnett’s character is a tremendously difficult task, which he deserves props on doing so flawlessly.
On a negative note there were only a few things that really bothered me. The first was the excessively loud mix, which not only blew out my eardrums but also had me jumping at moments that I felt was completely unnecessary. The second flaw is almost a sweet necessary evil, that being the length of the film. 30 DAYS felt a little long and tedious at moments, which is the grand scheme of things is beautiful poetry. Like mentioned earlier in this review, it was as if Slade attempted to bring the audience into the film, so the fact that the film felt long and uncomfortable was as if Slade was attempting to make the audience feel exactly what the characters were feeling. At some point near the finale you just want it to end, not because you’re bored but because you’re uncomfortable and sick of hiding. When Eben finally stands up and becomes a man, the audience should not only feel a weight lifted off their shoulders but also be energized and pumped for the final battle. Slade takes the audience along for the ride and never let’s them off the hook – there is no “push here to stop,” unless of course you leave the theater. Lastly, I think that the 30 days transition was poorly done as you cannot really tell how many days have passed, the only mention of this is when a title card appears at the bottom of the page.
By borrowing intense social lessons from films like Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (work as a group and live, fight with each other and die), and recognizing the flaws in past vampire/genre films, Slade and co. were able to seal the cracks and deliver a solid hardcore horror film – one that is nearly flawless. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT isn’t just a movie, it’s a ride. Slade takes you out of the theater and gets you so engulfed in the film that you will feel nearly every emotion the characters do. Dress warm this Halloween season and get ready for 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, one of the most insanely violent, scary and suspenseful horror films in years.