23 April 2010

Fin's Review: 30 Days of Night

I decided to do a review of 30 Days Of Night for a few reasons. Mainly because I think it is a really good film, and one that is seriously underrated, but also because - as anyone who reads my posts will know - I'm usually pretty critical of modern Hollywood films, so I thought I should highlight a film that shows quality films can still escape the ocean of mediocrity that is mainstream Hollywood in the early 21st century. I have to admit I avoided this film like the plague when it was first released. I really enjoyed the dark and gritty story as it appeared in the original comic and worried that it would be butchered when turned into a film. The outlook was not improved by the casting of Josh Hartnett as Sheriff Eben Olesen. I finally watched it at my brother's house on a day when not much was happening and, almost despite myself, I really enjoyed it. Then later, when Clarky brought it round for Horror Club, I realised that actually this film is really good.

The comic book series 30 Days Of Night was released in 2007 and writer Steve Niles and illustrator Ben Templesmith created a story that was beautifully drawn, with a fully-realised and unique setting and a creepy and grim story arc to boot. In some ways this gave director David Slade a head start and provided him with a great basis to produce a really solid movie. However, capturing the melancholic nature of the story would still be a real challenge. Luckily Slade pulls it off and to my money makes the best vampire movies since Near Dark in 1987.

Part of the success of the film is due to the concept: it is so simple it's perfect. The action takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the most northerly town in Alaska. It is dark for 30 days in midwinter and is completely cut off. One of the most effective ways to create a creepy atmosphere for a film is to craft a 'no escape' setting - think The Thing - and this tiny Alaskan town is an amazing example. Surviving a massed vampire attack is hard enough, but what if you had to survive for a month with no chance of dawn when it is 30 below outside? This simplicity of plot coupled with the ferocity with which David Slade approaches the story creates a gritty, fun survival horror that takes no prisoners.

The comic book is very dark both in tone and in colour and is drawn in black and white, brightened only by copious amounts of blood red. Slade makes the great decision to use this technique in the film and most scenes are darkly lit and dominated by black shadows and blinding white snow. Slade often goes even further than this and many of the scenes in the film are shot with the exact same framing as the comic. This approach is used to great effect, creating the claustrophobic and isolated environment of Barrow. As already noted above, it is hard not to think of Jon Carpenter's film The Thing when watching this film, but despite the very similar frozen setting Carpenter's tale deals with internal fear and paranoia whereas 30 Days Of Night is a much more straightforward action setup.

Our hero is Sheriff Eben Olsen, a gruff spoken, quiet and lonely man in the tradition of western heroes and a lot of the success of the film depends on how much we believe and care about this character. Needless to say, seeing Josh Hartnett cast in this role did not inspire confidence, but it must be said he is really good - more The Virgin Suicides than Pearl Harbour - and brings a raw believable charisma to the role.

The other aspect of the film that demands a comment are the vampires. These are not the traditional vampires of Bram Stoker and Warner Brothers in the 1930s, and are instead a terrifying hybrid of vampires and zombies. The vampires are truly animalistic in their search for blood and are properly balls out; no neat little bite marks on the neck for these creatures of the night.

All in all a really great addition to the vampire canon and a great example of how Hollywood should approach well-loved and respected source material when translating it into film.

1 comment:

  1. Is this different from 40 Days and 40 Nights?

    It was a good film. I was expecting it to be awful but it was actually surprisingly good.


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