Friday, April 18, 2008

30 Days of Night – review


Director: David Slade

Release date: 2007

Contains spoilers

Okay, this is the normal routine for a review. I watch the film, taking notes, taking screenshots and juggling coffee (no mean feat I can tell you). Then I tend to edit through the screenshots and try to decide which will look best (and more often than not with a few ideas of illustrative aspects I’ll want to keep as the review will already be forming in my mind). Then I leave it for a little while and let the film mull around my head. Then I write the review and then do a little research as necessary, on-line and through various books as applicable. A quick edit and I’m ready to rock and roll.

This time was a little different. Before writing this I went back to my first impressions and had a look at what I’d previously written. Then I wondered if I had been a little harsh, then I thought about the graphic novels and novelisations and thought not. I’m in a quandary and, hopefully, by the end of the review I’ll have decided what I truly think! It is, however, going to be impossible to divorce this from the source material which begins with the graphic novel of the same name.

Ben Foster as the StrangerSo, as I continue to mull, let’s look at the story. Barrow, Alaska – a place that falls into 30 days of night each year. This year a stranger (Ben Foster) arrives, all the indications being that he’s come from a ship (on which, I assume, are the vampires but the film doesn't tell us that). He trudges through the snow and looks down upon Barrow.

Josh Hartnett as EbenSheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) has some problems. He and his deputy Billy (Manu Bennett) have found a bunch of satellite phones burnt in a snow hole. They wonder who could have done it but Eben dismisses the idea that it was kids. They look to the last sunset, a sight which most of the men took their future wives to see on first dates (apparently) and it becomes clear that Eben is estranged from his wife Stella (Melissa George). On the way back to town Billy follows the tradition of reducing the population sign (to 152) – most get out of town for the month of night.

Melissa George as StellaUnbeknown to Eben is the fact that Stella is in town, due to her job as a fire marshal. She’s hoping to get in, do her job, get to the airport and get out on the last flight without being noticed. All this goes wrong when she is involved in a road accident with some heavy plant machinery (and don’t you just know that the plant machinery will be used later). She has to call Eben, who sends Billy to give her a lift and she misses her flight.

poor, poor GusAll kinds of things are going wrong in town. The helicopter has been vandalised to the point of being useless and sledge dogs have been slaughtered. Eben ends up arresting the Stranger who taunts him, Stella, Eban’s brother Jake (Mark Rendall) and grandmother Helen (Elizabeth McRae) with hints of a coming darkness, as it were. Things really hit the fan when the communications and main power goes down. Eban looks for the station manager Gus (Grant Tilly) and finds him, or at least his head on a spike.

The vampires have come to town, the stranger has prepared the way and they want to feed. What we then get is a survival horror tale involving some rather nasty blood suckers.

aerial shotThere are nice moments, an aerial shot of the initial devastation is really quite nicely done but the film has flaws. The first ones are concerned with the transfer from graphic novel but there are other inherent flaws. Slade keeps his vampires hidden for far too long for my liking. I could see what he was doing but when Eben and Stella first spot the vampires we see nothing. In the graphic there was an iconic view of the vampires and this was missed. The attack on their car, thereafter, was nicely done and used shaky camerawork quite well but that shaky camera was maintained and was simply annoying. Regular readers will know that I deem shaky camera to equal uncomfortable with the action sequences.

Marlow with baitThe vampires are quite well done, they are vicious, nasty creatures. The Ricean pathos has been replaced by just plain evil. This did work well. I have heard people say they were more like zombies and I disagree. They communicated and had a rank structure, with Marlow (Danny Hutson) as the leader. They removed the heads of victims to prevent turning and thus maintain their numbers. They used survivors as bait to draw out other survivors.

Danny Hutson as MarlowThere were aspects that didn’t work. For such intelligent creatures we didn’t get any form of characterisation – at all. The stupid click, click language didn’t help, preventing Hutson from being able to emote through dialogue, and was in itself unnecessary. The Vicente sub-plot, from the graphic novel, was missing and it seemed a little odd that Marlow would cause such devastation then want to clean it up and make it look like an accident – Marlow, in the graphic, causes the devastation, Vicente arrives to clean it up.

effect of sunlightThey pass on the infection through a bite or scratch and can be killed by losing their head or through sunlight. We see the effect of sunlight when Eben uses a sunlamp on a female vampire, but the whole set up was a little hokey – just an aim for a set piece. Why Marlow then kills her was a little beyond me, as she wasn’t dead surely she’d heal. I did like the animalistic aspects of the vampires and their screeches were rather impressive.

the child vampireThere is a child vampire scene that should have been so good, but unfortunately missed the mark. Perhaps it was the speed at which the shot was made that caused it to lose the atmosphere it should have carried. I don’t know. The aftermath of that attack on Jake’s feelings should have been explored in depth but characterisation was a low priority in the script and whilst referenced it felt glossed over. I am sure that having Eben and Stella estranged was meant to build a characterisation aspect into the film but seemed pointless and the film would have worked better with their relationship intact.

bald vampireSo, why can’t the vampires find all the survivors? Who knows? It would have only taken a day or so to rip through every house. In the graphic we discover that their sense of smell has gone because of the cold, that isn’t only missed but contradicted towards the end with a moment of dialogue. The fact that the survivors kept peeking out of a gap in an attic window, with the light on, would have drawn the vamps like a moth to a flame – this was answered in the film’s novelisation but missed in this – which was sloppy. Indeed, as I think about it, there were a lot of lights on, in certain areas, for a town running on backup generators.

I felt that the entire thing could have been crisper in the shooting, it was too grainy. The acting wasn’t fantastic – but then again there was no real dialogue on which to build a performance. I really didn’t care for the characters that much. Incidentally, though the ending was the same as the graphic, the way it was put together was a lift from Blade 2.

vampire screamA word about the graphic novel that comes with the DVD as a little extra. Anyone expecting a new franchise graphic will be disappointed. There is an excerpt from the first graphic and then shorter excerpts from Dark Days and Return to Barrow. Perhaps this underlines the problem. The free graphic novel was basically an advert and the film was basically a money spinner. Hollywood ruled and integrity went out of the window. Yes the vampires are vicious and nasty – kudos for that – but the whole thing fell short.

As a take your brain out (and you’ll have to because of the obvious holes, not all of which have been mentioned) this is an above average horror/action flick with a survival horror bent. It is not, however, the iconic film I hoped to see. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Exclamation Mark said...

I think you've done a good job with this review. I was disappointed, too, though I had the advantage of never reading the graphic novel. (I might have given it a slightly higher rating possibly for this reason only.)

That "clicking language" was so distracting it made me want to yell at the screen. However, I think the film had some very nice moments in regards to cinematography and atmosphere. I'm a sucker for the isolated community motif.

Not the iconic movie I was hoping for either.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers mark,

language wise, in the graphics, the text of the vampire's speech is in a slightly different font to indicate their voice have changed but they are speaking English. I'd have been happier if they had just added an effect to the voice in the movie.

I believe that there is a possibility that they'll shoot Dark Days - the second graphic, which I felt was where the graphic actually came into its own. Of course, huge aspects of that has to be changed in order that it might fit into what they had done in this movie.

Always nice to hear from you.

CrabStiX said...

It was Hitchcock who said something to the effect of, "Don't show a gun in the first act unless you intend to use it by the second"... a mistake this film makes more than once. Most crucially there is a huge figure of a polar bear in the centre of the town... so we the audience are primed for bear. Indeed it could be inferred that the early attacks are possibly by bears. But no, there are no bears. We are shown a bear, then no bears show up... which begs a question... in an area obviously prone to bear, why is the town not heaving with them a month into a blood bath which has left around a hundred bodies laying around in the snow?

On the question of blood, why does it not coagulate, dry or freeze in this film... days and weeks later pools of blood seem to lay around wet and viscous? Sense not makes this.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Crabstix, fair points one and all.

Not only is there the bear statue but also the population sign actually says something like, Beware, Polar Bears. If you lokk over to the review of the film's novelisation you'ss see that they did include a bear in town within that story - and a fight between it and the vamps. A scene sorely missing.

Perhaps I should have mentioned the non-coagulating blood again, I did mention that it still looked fresh in the police station in my First Impression. However - to give a benefit of the doubt, perhaps they tried to make it look frozen... na'h, the vamps always had fresh blood around their mouths, at any given time.

mice said...

I rather liked this movie, but I have yet to read the graphic novel. I didn't have any expectations and so I had a great time and thought it was a nice twist on the whole vamp thing.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mice, no complaint here re the twist on the genre - just the execution there-of.

I did like the move from the angsty vampire, I just thought more could have been done with it and holes could/should have been filled.

Marlow_Lover said...

I dont care what anyone says. This movie was THE best movie ever. the best Vampire movie ever anyways.

the Vampires were amazing an they were sexy! Yeah...I said it. They are sexy. So what? Lol, and I loved the language. Its hot! Call me a freak. I dont care. I get that alot. It does'nt effect me in any way.

anyways, Lol, back to the movie. Yeah...I think its freakin amazing. And Danny Huston is just an amzing actor and hes very atractive! and he plays Marlow so well!


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Marlow-lover, I'm glad you enjoyed it so much - that's the great thing about movies - each person gets their own thing out of them... I could argue the point of best vampire movie ever but you are so empassioned that for you it is true and that's fair enough.

Re Danny Hutson, I should explain that I am not criticising him, I trully feel that he was given little or nothing to work with as an actor.

Slaine said...

I watched this film courtesy of SBO at the weekend and have to say I liked it. I liked the Vampires, not the urbane kind most popular theses days, just broodingly evil. And the head vampire in his suit was bizarre. I like Ben Foster too, just as mad as he was in 3:10 to Yuma. Josh did a good job as the troubled Sheriff, looking as if he might grind to depressive halt vampires or not. But I think what I liked best was the absense of your usual firepower ending.
Plot holes here and there but generally a refreshing change. My shotgun will definately remain loaded at all times.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Glad you enjoyed it Slain - but I still feel this fell short of what it should have been.

LoBo said...

You said you thought it had too much film grain. Well, it was filmed on 35mm, so it has film grain.

In the documentary, they said they would either film it digitally or 35mm. So, they choose 35mm because they liked how it looked. That means they liked the film grain.

I must say i agree. I think the film grain works for this type of film and gives it a gritty, dirty appearance.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo, 35mm does have grain but there are different levels and I personally felt this was too much. I appreciate that they made a choice, perhaps one I wouldn't have made (but hey, I'm not a filmmaker anyway).

That said, its a taste thing and, in this case, I felt there were choices made that weren't necessarily to my taste... As I often say, however, if we all had the same taste it would be boring :)

LoBo said...

I see. I like film grain, so i was satisfied.