Friday, October 19, 2007

Film Review: "30 Days of Night"

30 Days of Night (3 stars out of 5)
You take the original with the hackneyed in '30 Days of Night'

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel Movie Critic
October 19, 2007

Movie details...
Cast: Josh Harnett, Danny Huston, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior
Director: David Slade.
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes
Rating: R for strong horror violence and language.
Genre: Horror, Thriller

Somebody has melted all of the satellite phones in Barrow, Alaska, on America's farthest frontier. They've sabotaged the radios, cut phone lines.

The power grid is going down. They've slaughtered the sled dogs.

Who did it? Is it those pesky Russkies? The new "Evil Empire" the Chinese?

Nope. It's those #@&$% vampires!

That's the brilliant conceit behind the Steve Niles comic, and the new movie based on it, 30 Days of Night: Send vampires to the most famously remote place on the continent. There, on the frozen tundra of Barrow, the sons and daughters of Dracula spill a lot of crimson on the snowy white nothingness.

Josh Hartnett is the local cop who wonders who or what has descended on Barrow just as the sun goes down for the winter. Melissa George plays his estranged wife, now a fire marshal anxious to flee to Anchorage before the airport shuts down. Mark Boone Junior is Beau, the crusty anti-social "sourdough" who runs the snowplow.

And Ben Foster is the deranged stranger who wanders in from a distant, ice-bound ice-breaker. To warn the town? Or to pave the way for mayhem?

"Bar the windows. Try to hide ..... That cold ain't the weather. That's death approaching!"

Pretty much everything that can be done has been done in vampire movies, especially since the superb Cold War metaphors Nightwatch and Daywatch came out of Russia. So you take the original with the hackneyed, and there's plenty of both in 30 Days of Night.

A few good lines zero in on the place and the people, the by-the-book "lock your doors and load your firearms" loud-speaker message from the police department SUV, the surly anti-government, survivalist ethos of many Alaskans.

"We know the cold," Harnett's cop tells the townsfolk not wiped out in the initial orgy of slaughter. "We live here for a reason. Because nobody else can."

The film also has a stunning sense of snow, remoteness and a perfectly chilly sci-fi look, thanks to art director Nigel Churcher, production designer Paul D. Austerberry and cinematographer Jo Willems.

But a few early jokes that promise a little horror-humor give way to a generally grim and gruesome 30-day slog as a handful of survivors try to hold out against the undead, led by Danny Huston, of all people. His character sputters his Slavic horror haiku through pointy teeth and black-hole eyes.

"When a man meets a force he cannot destroy, he destroys himself."

A nice touch the vampires don't leave breath fog in the cold, the "humans" do.

But the gas runs out of this snowmobile as we settle in for that wait for daylight. So much detail is left out that the "realism" vanishes. There isn't enough emotion connecting the cop to the soon-to-be-ex-wife. Very little is invested in characters. They're colorless, neither sympathetically emotional nor sarcastically cynical.

Still, 30 Days hangs on a pretty cool conceit. It doesn't spoil the movie that the "real" Barrow has over 4,000 people, not the hundred or so who stick around for the "days of night." A world of white-out is a great place to spill a lot of cinematic blood.

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