Vampire lore always reminds us that there is a fine line between life and death: undead. There’s also a fine line between a classic and a generic survival-horror movie. David Slade’s movie adaptation of Ben Templesmith and Steve Nile’s graphic novel, “30 Days of Night” also falls on that line.
The film opens ominously with Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) discovering a pile of charred cellular phones, just days before Barrow, the northernmost city in Alaska, is plunged into its annual month of darkness and into the hands of bloodthirsty vampires. Oleson, his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), and a few survivors fight tooth-and-nail, armed with everything from axes to UV lights. There are high stakes in this movie; the only two ways to kill these vampires are to behead them or zap them with artificial sunlight. They must weather out both the harsh cold of the darkness and the hungry hunters until the next sunrise.
Naturally, this means that the movie features a senseless bloodbath of beheadings, often awkward, mechanical, and altogether unnecessary to watch. “30 Days of Night” really brings a new meaning to the saying “pain in the neck” ““ there are more graphic scenes of Olseson hacking heads off his buddies-turned-enemies in a “Saw”-like manner than there are of vampires’ jugular attacks.
Most disappointingly, the vampires are vastly uninteresting. Templesmith and Nile lobotomize the sexy, romantic magnetism of the traditional vampire. Marlow (Danny Huston), the leader of the vampire gang, echoes complexity as he throws a little nihilism into his monologues, but he is slightly too worn down to play the timeless, ageless vampire. Most of the other vampires look as if they were scraped off of a corner near an underground Eurotrash club and are no more psychologically compelling than ugly alley cats playing with their prey. These undead characters are little more than zombies with jagged teeth who communicate in a screechy, guttural Slavic language, enjoy manipulating humans and attack with sadistic, gang-like brutality.
In terms of visual faithfulness to the graphic novel, the cinematography is pretty much spot-on. The movie is visually vivid with its tight, claustrophobic shots and desaturated nightscapes. Vampires are pale and silvery in the moonlight with a hint of an archaic, gothic quality in their bloodstained faces and clothing. An aerial camera angle during the vampire-rampage scene is perhaps the most well-done shot. Unfortunately, aside from the visually pleasing aesthetics, the movie lacks in most everything else.
Perhaps “30 Days” would have been better presented as a silent film ““ cut out the dialogue and get to the real flesh and blood of the film ““ the artistic visuals.
““ Jessica Lum
E-mail Lum at [email protected]