’30 Days of Night’ ought to be kept in the dark

David Hohwald

What goes together better than Alaska and vampires? For director David Slade, it’s the perfect recipe.

In “30 Days of Night” Slade adapts the comic book by Steve Niles of the same name, hoping to tap both the comic book and horror market at the same time.

As opposed to huge-budget comic book epics, this movie is relatively small but manages to be sufficiently flashy when given the chance. However, this comic-to-screen adaptation does nothing to separate itself from any other horror movie out right now, using a good concept but driving it into the ground by taking it in the completely wrong direction at times and on odd tangents at others.

The idea behind “30 Days of Night” is pretty great. We all know there are places in Alaska that don’t see the sun for weeks at a time, and this movie uses the town of Barrow, Alaska, as the site of a vampire feeding-frenzy.

It is a fresh spin on the exceedingly tired vampire movie genre and better than another Dracula remake for sure.

In fact, the vampires are even different from those audiences may be used to and are borderline animalistic in their bloodlust, gorging themselves like zombies out of the movie “28 Days Later.”

Somehow the cold locale tends to fit with horror movies, and it is easy to see the promise in this movie. Unfortunately, Slade does not capitalize on a great foundation. Instead, he chooses to meander through a weary plot. Eben and Stella Olemaun are a separated couple, with Stella leaving Eben on the last flight out of Barrow before the month of darkness. However, when she misses her flight she is left in town for the vampire invasion with her soon-to-be ex-husband, the sheriff now tasked with saving as many Barrow residents as he can.

Slade spends far too much time on the relationship drama between Eben and Stella, seeking to add depth to their relationship and utterly failing. Seeing as how this drama is a significant part of the film, it is impossible to ignore this problem.

He also sacrifices any depth in any other characters for the sake of this relationship, hurting the film in general.

Perhaps the relationship plot could have been saved had Eben or Stella been particularly well acted, but with Josh “Wall of Stone” Hartnett playing Eben, it did not even have a shot. Hartnett meanders through “30 Days of Night” in a daze. He has one emotion, stoic, and that is all. Melissa George hardly helps him, though, and is only a smidge better than Hartnett.

Sadly, Slade got Danny Huston, a solid actor to play the head vampire Marlow and then fails to use him nearly at all in the film. Ben Foster is a small ray of light in the cast, playing the role of the drifter with more emotion than the rest of the cast combined.

Slade fails to get any great performances out of the cast, though, and this will certainly fail to draw audience investment in the characters.

As for the cinematography, it has its ups and downs. In “30 Days of Night” the director and his crew do a great job of creating the town. All the sets are excellent, and the town looks legitimately Alaskan.

They also capture the weather well, from the constant gusts of wind blowing snow around to the visibility of a character’s breath. Slade also frames the characters well, making the vampires look truly evil while using interior shots to convey the humanity of the people on the run from their undead predators.

Yet for all of this, Slade falls into the trap of hyper-editing his action scenes. Many of the vampire attacks occur far too quickly, and it is difficult to see what is going on during many of the big action sequences, especially the biggest set piece of the film. For a movie about vampires attacking humans, it should be easy to see the vampires attacking the humans, but in many cases it just is not.

Overall, “30 Days of Night” is a pretty run-of-the-mill vampire movie. It does not do much particularly well, but it takes an interesting concept and applies it with a certain degree of efficacy.

The plot meanders and gets saddled with unnecessary relationship issues, and the action scenes are not amazingly done, but the movie is sufficiently chilling.

If you are desperate to find a horror movie to see this fall, “30 Days of Night” is certainly an adequate alternative to the “Saw” series, but in the end, it is a film that could have been much better with a better director and cast.