OK, so I know a lot of you out there would have already seen this movie, perhaps many times over, so I ask myself why no review on HE? I quickly made up my mind to put this right, for a new generation just getting into theses things if not for the already established horror audience out there.
Now firstly I have a little confession to make. The first time I saw this movie, just after reading the graphic novels it was derived from by the movie`s co-writer Steve Niles, I really disliked it. I actually had decided to dislike it before I had ever seen it. I was an idiot. I was tired of seeing so many of my favourite books (and graphic novels) being rewritten for the screen and subsequently having their hearts ripped out before my disgusted eyes. I had already accepted the guts of this story would be ripped out long before it ever reached the finished product. So when first I sat down to watch 30 Days Of Night, I had already geared myself up to rip apart every scene, frame by frame, just to satisfy myself of what I thought I already knew, that Hollywood was a festering disease of choking weeds cheapening the terrain it envies and smothering what it couldn't change. I'm not even sure if I watched it all through, but I do recall rating it around the 3/10 mark, meaning I felt it pretty much deserved to be buried and forgotten about. Looking back, I must've been mentally deranged, fallen foul of a sickness affecting my mind, ears and all sense of judgement, my awareness clouded with false misconceptions and blurred with fatigue. No doubt I was struck by a malady of crippling proportions. Yep......I had man flu.
Nothing else can describe why my first viewing was such a distant take on reality because 30 Days Of Night is a beautiful movie.
The problem in so many cases like this is taking what you know from the book and trying to transfer what made it personally special to you to the screen. I couldn't do it with I AM LEGEND (because it had absolutely no relation to the novel anyway). I couldn't do it with a vast majority of Stephen King adaptions either. These days though I`m finding the need to adapt much easier and accept different areas of media often require variations on a theme and that these movies are often only made in the first instance due to the desire or vision of those film makers seeing how variation or interpretation can create a contrasting experience to which is already known or exists. I can even fully enjoy Francis Lawrence's I AM LEGEND these days without any worry at all.
Opening to the desolate image of a small huddled group of buildings amidst the vast white expanse of emptyness of all around it, we are given the setting for our next 108 minutes of sublime horror movie making where if any single frame isn't dripping with steaming gore it's mesmerising you with it's chillingly beautiful cinamatography.
The words fade in and slowly out:
Barrow. Alaska - Northernmost town in the U.S.
Isolated in 80 miles of roadless wilderness.
Cut off every winter for 30 Days Of Night.
We see a man. Alone. Face half frozen despite the fur hood and heavy padding of his insulated clothing, surrounded in all directions by a vast tundra of snow and ice. Looking out across the horizon as the tears brought to his eyes by the biting winds threaten to freeze in his stare. The ocean, dark, misty, littered with slabs of frozen debris of older broken icebergs and those still forming. Out in the mist covered waters a huge black ship sits in ghostly silence staring back like a corpse with it's eye sockets fixed upon the land a mile or two ahead. But there is no sign of life.
It`s here in these initial scenes especially where we experience the depth of atmosphere and the astounding beauty of the films capturing of a bleakness and desolation, that if not solely concentrating on the action, can be seen throughout it's entire length of the film. Added to that the faultless work on production design (Paul D. Austerberry), art direction (Nigel Churcher, Mark Robins), make up and effects (Davina Lamont, Gino Acevedo), and Jo Willems cinamatography combined with great direction (David Slade), and you have a surefire platform for something slick, stylish and solid.
The man,a stranger to these disabling temperatures, moves away from the brooding image of the hulking vessel and turns slowly inland towards a small town. There are no footprints except his own and they lead from the waters edge. A caption tells us that this day is the last day of sun.
Fade into two men sometime later investigating the theft and subsequent burning of the towns supply of mobile phones. They have their own vague ideas about possible motives for such an act, but the setting for the horrors that will follow are as far from their comprehension as are the days when the sun will rise again in their dwindling skies. They look out over the bleak horizon as the light begins to fade and the snow sucks up the final rays. "Last sunset in a month", one says to the other. These men work together daily, they are longtime friends who have shared their tough lives in some of the harshest terrains that humans can inhabit. Over the years they've been through a lot together, the ups and the downs. In the next 30 days of night they`re gonna go through a helluva lot more than either could ever imagine and only one will survive it long enough to see the sun rise up on the horizon once again.
Josh Hartnett playing town sheriff Eban Oleson and his deputy Billy Kitka played by Manu Bennett, are the two men moving about the town tightening everything up in readyness for the winter shutdown. A sign that reads "Welcome to Barrow - Alaska. Top Of The World. Population 563", is altered to "Population 152" to take in the circumstances, the majority of the population leaving on the last flights out of Barrow for sunnier climes elsewhere. Stella Oleson played by Melissa George is one of those struggling to make the flight out in time before being stuck in town for what would be a gruelling ordeal of a month in darkness. Unfortunately luck and fate are not on her side and any chance of reaching the last flight are becoming less and less likely. The sun sets on a mass exodus, only a small percentage will stay behind, enough to eventually witness the horror already approaching in large numbers from beyond their immediate awareness. But the dogs know. They can smell it. But like the phones they will be taken care of long before they can be used to warn or frighten off the prey. Once the population is down to a sparse minority spread out across the town, lines of communication become disabled,electricity supply sabotaged, helicopters wiring torn out,dogs butchered and only the frozen wasteland left to run to, the stage is set for a bloody massacre of truely hellish proportions.
The "out of towners" don't hang around for long once their human "helper" has everything arranged nicely for their coming. The fading light and their own insatiable hunger draws them in towards the warm blood fuelled bodies of unsuspecting townies in their droves, led and commanded by their leader Marlow (Danny Huston).
All the characters and performances here are spot on. Ben Foster who plays the vampires human helper who gives the line to his cowering human captors in a menacing southern drawl "No way out of town. Noone to come help. You can feel it. That cold ain't the weather, thats death approaching", is especially impressive and credible being almost as distasteful and ugly in persona as the vampires themselves. And that takes some doing as the vampires here are just about as vicious, terrifying, cunning and brutal as your ever likely to see. When the blood starts flying it's thick and sticky, when the flesh rips it's hot and raw, when those inky blood caked lips pull back baring white serated teeth they glint in the firelight dripping from their frenzied feeding. Want blood and guts? You got it, lots of it, torn out throats, slashed and mangled limbs, hacked off heads,snapped bones, heads shot apart, it`s all on show for your delectation. The vamps aren't the only ones getting a feast here.
Lighting for this movie must've been a nightmare but it never loses detail to the shadows and the colour palate thankfully doesn`t get greyed out like it did in the otherwise brilliant Norwegian movie COLD PREY. Everything in 30 Days Of Night is fitting to its needs. Having the proceedings take place in frozen Alaska also adds to its chilling counterpart in the cold heartless monsters, suiting their persona's perfectly. Untouched by warmth or cold, oblivious to such human frailties, unfazed by by freezing temperatures or the harshest elements. When they feed they do not percieve the sensation of its warmth in their stomachs, just as the snow itself cannot perceive sensation against its own coldness as the drops of blood splatter across its crystaline body. But these creatures are not dead inside. The feeding and satiating of their desires of brutality against the living humans may seem to be the only thing they truely feel. Though we are shown there is an understanding amongst them of hierarchy and a certain sense of togetherness and family. There is evidence shown of companionship and perhaps even a form of love. They are a species deeming itself vastly superior. The humans of Barrow no more than cattle to be slaughtered for their own pleasures.
What I love about this movie and the way it gets its information across is never done through those channels we so often get where some character has to do a virtual lecture scene by scene to tell us what we need to know. Here in 30 Days Of Night your not even aware the data is sinking in because its put forth in very subtle ways that your often not even conscious of. It's incorporated into the movie more by example than anything else. You learn by what you yourself pick up in the periphery rather than having it pushed into your face then unceremoniously shoved down your throat. Thats down to bloody good writing, and you can thank Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie for that.
Whether they were ever human,where they came from or where they will appear next, we do not know,only that they will. As they tell us "There is no escape. No hope. Only hunger and pain". By the end of the movie with the town in flames and over 150 bodies sprawled dead and torn to shreds in the streets, Barrow's few remaining survivors have little choice but to accept the vampires simple philosophy and their own fate. Unless a small miracle or some spark of human ingenuity the tables can somehow be turned to their favour.
So as we have seen, some of the most credible and vicious vampires ever witnessed on screen have 30 Days Of Night to wipe out the entire population of Barrow. If the humans try to hide the vampires have 30 Days Of Night to wait for the rabbits to run, picking them off out in the open knowing the rabbits in their hidey holes will all eventally try and run, forced out increasingly by desperation to seek food and provisions. After the initial frenzied massacre the hunt becomes more a case of cat and mouse or hide and seek as the last few survivors are steadily hunted down.
Leading to an inevitable showdown where desperation impells the survivors towards acts of valiant yet often self destructive ends.mTension and suspense build steadily throughout as situations become more strained between the small group of survivors as minds crack and loyalties begin to pull them apart under the strain of being hunted whilst simultaneously living on the verge of starvation and freezing to death.
This is a great movie that perhaps has still to be given its full due. It hits the nail firmly on the head in virtually every aspect of its making, giving me at least, everything I would ever want in a great horror movie and it does it with skill, style and atmosphere. It's so nearly the perfect package.....nearly.
The only gripe I still have with the movie is that the two leads Josh Hartnett and Melissa George weren't as gritty as I would've liked. But that's me looking for absolute perfection in an imperfect world.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT is a beautifully made movie and as close to perfect as I can imagine a movie getting. One things for sure, I wouldn't want to be a resident of the real town of Barrow (yes, it does actually exist) come winter after watching this awesome bloodfest.