A minimalistic plot summary for 30 Days of Night: vampires target and attack a small town in Alaska because the sun won’t be coming up there for a month, as it’s truly a horrible little place to live. Even Josh Hartnett in a sheriff’s uniform could not entice me to live somewhere that depressing. You know why? Because I’m from California.
Now, as far as the actual movie goes . . .
. . . well, it starts good, anyway. Like every other film nerd has already said in their respective movie blogs, 30 Days of Night has a pretty interesting concept, particularly in this age of super sexy and/or gooey, melodramatic vampire stories. These are not pretty vampires; these are ugly, weird-looking vampires with somewhat fucked up faces and creepy fucking nails. There are a few good scenes in this film, some decent enough performances, and acceptable dialogue . . . but there are also massive fucking editing problems and character development issues. And then there are the vamps themselves . . .
Oh, the vampires. Don’t be fooled by my praising the creepy nails above; the vampires in this movie are awful. Seriously, they may not be sexy, but that doesn’t make them any less irritating. They are easily the worst part about 30 Days of Night, and considering that it’s a vampire movie—
Yeah, 30 Days Of Night is something of a hot mess.
1.) Josh Hartnett plays our hero, Sheriff Eben Oleson. (And until the last fifteen minutes of the film, I was sure Josh Hartnett’s name was Evan. Well, how many Ebens do you know?) Hartnett . . . kind of works. He’s always struck me as the type of actor best at doing comedy, but I don’t necessarily think that drama’s entirely out of his range. I do, however, think that he isn’t quite strong enough to pull off that sort of stoic, taciturn badass that this movie seems to require. I just don’t think he quite has the gravitas and the charisma needed for that kind of role. On the other hand, I completely buy the hints of hysteria that come through his voice as his friends start to die and his town crumbles around him. One line in particularly gets a little shrieky, and it’s a good shrieky–it’s how someone should react to this kind of chaos. So, it’s not a total loss.
2.) Of course, Eben is a broody bastard because he’s separated from his wife, Stella, who’s played by the still-not-American Melissa George. (Actually, at least half the damn cast tries to fake an American accent, and, well, they pretty much fail . . . but they fail forward, right? Right?)
Stella is . . . okay. She doesn’t have much in the way of actual character, but neither does anyone else, really. It’s definitely a major flaw in the film. When people start dying, you barely know who they are, so, really, what the hell do you care?
3.) Pet-lovers beware: animals die in this movie. I know. It’s shocking, animals dying in a horror movie. I’m sure you’re just all terribly surprised.
4.) There’s a character in this movie called The Stranger, and I’m not entirely sure what I think about him . . . I kind of wish we got to see a little more of his backstory . . . but he is played by Ben Foster, and Ben Foster can be as creepy as fuck.
Were that he was the true villain of this story.
5.) But no. Alas, we get this guy:
This guy is Marlow, who the head of the evil vampires. I guess being king has its perks–for no apparent reason, he looks far more human than the rest of his fellow bloodsuckers. Compare the above picture with this pic of his main female lackey. She belongs in a Guillermo Del Toro film, no?
Anyway, the vampires are pretty cool at first. In fact, you don’t even really see them—they move too fast for the eye to follow, so people are just disappearing from the inside of their homes, being torn apart and fed upon before they even know what’s happening. Those scenes are all kinds of creepy.
But then, and pretty much all of a sudden, the vamps are just strolling through town, chatting away in their made-up, Eastern European-esque language, and they instantly fail to be even remotely interesting. Sure, Marlow has one kind of cool line that I remember from the trailer, but mostly, he just says vaguely ominous things of absolutely no importance. They aren’t witty. They aren’t creepy. They don’t reveal anything about the characters, and they don’t move the plot forward in any helpful way. There is absolutely no reason to make these vamps talk. Once Marlow opens his big mouth, every bit of atmosphere that’s been building up throughout the first thirty minutes is pretty much lost.
6.) Another problem I mentioned earlier: editing. 30 Days of Night starts a little slow, but it’s actually a good kind of slow, and when the action really starts happening, it’s kind of like a bomb goes off. That works . . for the first five to ten minutes, anyway. And then . . . it’s almost as if somebody deleted fifteen minutes of the film, and you go from Point B to Point D, wondering where in the holy hell Point C went off to. I’d have to go into too much spoilerific detail to fully explain, but the sudden leap is jarring. And since that’s about the same time the vampires are suddenly out in the open, jabbering at each other . . . yeah, that’s when the movie kind of starts to suck.
7.) This story takes place over the entire month of darkness, with the survivors hiding out in various buildings, constantly in danger of being attacked by the chatty vampires. Again, this is a cool concept, and one that could have been really neat to watch . . . but the passage of time is barely even felt by the audience. I mean, it’s enforced, sure: helpful subtitles telling us that’s it Day 22 now let us know where we are in the timeline. But we only see the “big” scenes, with characters running from house to house. We never see, say, Day 13 and 14, where the characters play poker in the attic to take their mind off the very real possibility of being sucked dry. We never see them go stir crazy, never see them have interesting conversations, brush their hair, anything. The smallest amount of character development is left for Eben and Stella and the one-line explanation on why they broke up in the first place. Otherwise, nothing, nada, zippo. I don’t care about these people, and I have absolutely no sense of the time that they’ve spent together.
8.) On the upside, there is gore, and it is reasonably plentiful.
9.) I can’t talk too much about the ending until the Spoiler Section, of course, but I will say that I kind of liked it, and I kind of didn’t. It has, shall we say, a definite air of total implausibility to it, but I kind of like the note that they actually end the film on. It doesn’t really make up for all the problems in the movie, but I’ve seen worse endings before.
10.) Finally, something I forgot to mention before: Josh Hartnett may be playing the first character in film history who a) has asthma, and b) is not a total nerd. Which is kind of nice to see, although I do wonder at an asthmatic living in such a cold environment. I mean, I’m sure it happens, but not all of us asthmatics do awesome in super cold temperatures–God knows my lungs have had been pretty vocal about their distaste for fucking walk-in freezers. Also, while Hartnett’s pretend-wheezing isn’t too bad (it’s a little much to ask for an actor’s lungs to actually creak, I think) I’m always amused when characters take their one magic puff of inhaler—I don’t know about you, but when I’m having that much trouble breathing, I sure as hell don’t take one puff off of an inhaler. It also doesn’t instantly make everything better. And it’ll make you shaky as hell, something a lot of movies fail to show.
But, hey. Take what you can get. This is eight bazillion times better than Mikey taking a puff every other second in The Goonies, right?
Now, on to spoilers . . .
Okay, so almost everyone gets killed off by Day 30. The only ones left standing before the final fight are Eben, Eben’s not-quite-as-good-looking-and-not-quite-as-American brother Jake, Stella, some six year old, and some chick . . . maybe two chicks? I don’t remember. They aren’t important. Anyway, what is important is that Stella and the six year old are trapped under a parked RV, and the vamps are burning down the town. Eben and the others are safe, but if they don’t rescue Stella and the kid, they’ll either be a) burned alive, or b) eaten by vampires. Awesome choice.
Anyway, Eben still loves Stella, shockingly, and he can’t let her just die. (I mean, sure, there’s a little girl trapped there, too, but don’t fool yourselves, people. He clearly only really cares about Stella.) So his truly awful, AWFUL idea is to inject himself with vampire blood, thus turning himself into a vampire. That way, he can fight the bad guys and give Stella and the little girl a chance to escape.
See, not everyone who’s been turned so far has turned immediately, which means that Eben should, hopefully, remain Eben for long enough to fight for the woman he loves. It’s a noble sacrifice, but it’s not a terribly well-thought out one; his evidence for believing that the injection of vamp blood will work in the way that he hopes is pretty fucking thin. Not to mention that he’ll be a newbie vamp who’s still in quite a lot of pain, going up against at least ten vampires who have, presumably, been bad guys for some time now. But never mind these trivialities–Eben shoots up and goes outside to face Marlow.
Marlow, like the annoying pain in the ass that he is, just says something like, “The one who fights,” and seriously, what does that even mean? Is there always One Who Fights? Is this a prophecy thing? Is Eben the new Neo? Whatever, I guess it doesn’t matter, since it’s never brought up again. Anyway, Marlow and Eben fight, and, for the most part, Eben gets his ass kicked. The other vamps just watch since, I suppose, this is one “Marlow must fight alone,” because . . . well, who knows, really? They also don’t go after Stella, even though she stands there watching the entire fucking time, despite the fact that the whole reason Eben’s doing this is to give her time to get away, and even though he yells at her repeatedly to run. Stella, you dumb bitch. Thanks for fucking nothing.
Anyway, Eben’s still getting his ass kicked when, finally, he lands a lucky punch . . . through Marlow’s mouth and out the back of his head. I know a lot of people thought this was pretty lame, but I thought it was kind of awesome. One, because it was ridiculous, and kind of reminded me of that one scene in The Quick and The Dead (if you’ve seen it, you know the scene I’m talking about.) But, also, I think I liked it because I wanted to punch Marlow through the mouth so badly throughout the entire movie; it was like ultimate wish fulfillment. Therefore, I declare it awesome.
After Marlow bites the big one, the rest of the vampires all decide to run away. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to fight someone who just punched a hole through the back of my King’s head, either, and the sun is coming up pretty soon . . . but, still. There’s at least ten of them, right? If they all just jumped Eben at once, I’m pretty sure he’d go down with minimal fuss. But no one listens to me, so they run off, and Stella asks what Eben’s done to himself (like, isn’t it kind of obvious, you stupid, STUPID bitch) and reminds him that dawn is coming.
One of these days, I want to see a horror film where the coming of the dawn is a bad thing for humans. (Eben doesn’t count. He’s not a human anymore. Where are the monsters that thrive on daylight?)
Anyway, the final shot: Stella and Eben sit together, watching the sunrise. They kiss, and then Eben starts to burn away, and Stella holds him closely in her arms. (He doesn’t actually catch on fire, so this isn’t, like, a lover’s suicide pact or anything.) And while I’ve seen better burnt-to-ash special effects before, I like the shot of Stella holding on to Eben. It wasn’t exactly what I’d call an upper, but it was a good way to end the film.
If only the rest of the film had been worth something.
Tentative Grade: C
Moral: Don’t live in Alaska. (Sorry, Robyn. It had to be said.)
Also, apparently, the UV light people use to help cultivate marijuana will, in fact, burn a vampire’s face off. So . . . don’t do drugs, kids. Just . . . grow them, because the vampires could come, will come, are coming.
Especially if you live in freaking Alaska.