Genre Spotlight: 30 Days of Night
Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost city in the United States, one of the northernmost cities on Earth in fact, and as a dyed-in-the-wool city (and warm-weather) person, the mere act of typing the words “Barrow, Alaska” into Google Maps was enough to put me off my morning tea (you’ll notice that the airport is actually about as big as the entire town, which makes me wonder if the number one activity in Barrow, Alaska is getting the hell away from Barrow, Alaska). Just 1300 miles south of the North Pole, Barrow is well within the Arctic Circle, which affords it, every winter (at least in the world of the book and movie – you can look online for yourself to see how it really works), the titular 30 Days of Night.
The perfect setting, in other words, for a month-long vampiric killing spree.
One memory I have of first seeing 30 Days of Night (adapted from Steve Niles’ and Ben Templesmith’s cult-favorite three-issue 2002 IDW miniseries of the same name) in the theatre was just how very confused the audience was – not by the story, which isn’t very complicated, but by just how serious the movie is, how cheerless, downbeat, and dark. People had arrived expecting to have a good time (this was back in 2007, when the Saw, Final Destination, and Hostel movies were all the rage, and seemed by all indications to be the future of “horror” as a genre), and were almost immediately stunned into dead silence, leaving the theatre at the end of the movie rather scratching their heads at what they had just seen – something intense, bloody, genuinely scary, brutally violent, and about as relentlessly depressing as an action movie can be. The movie is, in other words, exactly what a horror movie, particularly a vampire movie, should be. The vampires of 30 Days of Night are wild animals. They are not poets, not romantics, not comedians or tricksters. They are animals, and they are here to hunt.
Director David Slade has a background in photography, which definitely shows in some of the perfectly composed scenes in his previous feature Hard Candy, and as much as people rightfully criticize the Twilight movies on their story, themes, characters, writing, and acting, even the harshest critics have to admit that Slade’s Eclipse is at least the best looking chapter to date. For 30 Days of Night, Slade takes an almost painterly care in composing his shots, obviously under the influence of Ben Templesmith’s original art from the books. The ragged look of the vampires, detail for detail, comes straight from the books, and Slade’s overhead shots of the carnage are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The screenplay, by a team of writers including Steve Niles himself, expands upon a story which takes not much more than the basic premise, ending and a few specific shots/moments from Niles’ and Templesmith’s original comic, but unfortunately the script is where the movie falls a bit short. There isn’t terribly much character development, and we don’t exactly get the sense in the end that the characters have actually “arrived” anywhere, other than having survived the month. We know that our hero-couple Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) are on the rocks, but never really learn why (other than a single flip comment by Stella that Eben didn’t want kids). The other survivors are somewhat interchangeable (especially since the majority of the movie is lit in a manner that makes your typical X-Files episode look like a Busby Berkeley extravaganza), and whenever someone died I found myself having to ask, which one was that again? Don’t get me wrong, the audience definitely feels sad when characters die, but we’re not so much sad for them as we are for us, for humanity, what’s left of it.
Which is fitting, I suppose, for a story as formidably depressing and twisted as 30 Days of Night, and I for one am quite happy that Slade chose to keep with the tone of the original source material rather than turning it into another Underworld movie. But is “happy” really the right word for anything relating to this story?