What would you do if you were stranded in northern Alaska for a month of complete darkness?
(a) Stay in and watch re-runs of “Grey’s Anatomy,”
(b) Daydream about being elsewhere,
(c) Cut some heads off.
Directed by David Slade (also behind “Hard Candy”, but still mostly known for shooting music videos for Stone Temple Pilots, Muse and System of a Down), the latest vampire flick “30 Days of Night” has its characters perform a lot of option (c), although most of them, very obviously, lean towards (a) or (b). The film’s setup for blood-sucking horror is very convenient indeed: for a bunch of thirsty vampires, a town where no light shines for 30 days is nothing but an all-you-can-eat buffet. For the warmly dressed, unsuspecting townsfolk, however, it is a crash course in survival. After most of them fail the test, it is up to a small group, lead by sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his alienated wife Stella (Melissa George), to take a last stand against ancient evil.
The plot development of ”30 Days of Night” will not surprise anyone who has seen at least three horror movies of any kind. Formulaic and predictable, “30 Days” ensures that people get exactly the kind of plot they (hopefully) sign up for: a mysterious threat looming over a peaceful community, people getting confused, powerful evil killing off said people in spectacular ways, etc. Slade cannot be blamed for breaking his promises — his film was clearly meant to be a cliché, and at that it definitely succeeds.
Even so, “30 Days” manages to spice up this well-known recipe. Most notably, it re-vamps the villains to make them extra scary and disgusting. Forget the two pointy fangs — here, the entire mouth is a tribute to “Jaws.” And never mind that mumbo-jumbo about vampires being attractive. These things are pale as death, deformed and blood-smeared, and whenever they don’t communicate in their weird language, they utter ear-piercing howls. And here’s the best part: They are messy eaters, which promises blood-stained snow that slasher fans will go nuts over.
As dictated by the rules of horror cinema, gory violence abounds throughout the entire movie. Steadfastly clinging to the “more killings, happier movie crowds” maxim, “30 Days” scratches faces, tears limbs and severs arteries with admirable gusto. The vampires perform extensive landscaping, throwing half-torn bodies all around to break the monotony of the sterile winter setting. And axe-carrying Sheriff Oleson, not to be outdone, performs several satisfying decapitations, in addition to an utterly disgusting fistfight with the Vampire Leader’s brain.
There are no surprises in the choice of setting, either. The barren, cold, isolated town provides all the well-known horror elements: darkness, emptiness and a sizeable amount of dilapidated-looking buildings with hidden rooms and dark nooks. The unnatural absence of sunlight makes for an eerie, chilling atmosphere, while within the silent, deserted streets, it is easy to picture creatures lurking in the night.
The good ol’ ultraviolence and the creepy back alleys hardly detract from the movie’s main shortcoming, though. “30 Days” is not half as scary as it could’ve been. Sure, it causes plenty of flinching and closing of eyes, but mostly due to the feelings of revulsion and squeamishness it provokes in viewers with sensitive stomachs. Other than that, there is no feeling of real suspense. The movie gets so caught up in its desire to offer dynamic, fast-paced action scenes and respectably appetite-killing vampire gorgings that it forgets to linger on and accentuate the moments that would truly make for blood-chilling, seat-gripping apprehension and anxious anticipation.
Sadly, the disappointment doesn’t end there. For some unfathomable reason, “30 Days,” which, until that point, satisfies itself with being delightfully formulaic with only a few glimpses of originality, decides to come up with a “different” ending. The result, not surprisingly, is a catastrophic let-down (of the “Come on, was that necessary?” type) that all but ruins the entire film.
But if, for some reason, you find yourself stuck in the near-complete darkness of a movie theater, forced to feast your eyes on “30 Days,” you have some options for how to pass the time:
(a) Feel grateful winters in New Haven are milder than Alaskan ones,
(b) Wonder why one of the vampires looks so much like Marilyn Manson,
(c) Cut some heads off.