Let’s get some flashlights.
30 Days of Night is one of the last major films that shows vampires as monsters. No matter the faults of the film, it deserves praise for trying to remold the creatures into something to be frightened of.
We follow Eben (Josh Hartnett) as he patrols his small Alaskan town before the sun will set for 30 days. The town is beset by strange events—the helicopter is destroyed, dogs killed, and powerlines are cut. As night falls, Even and Stella (Melissa George) his estranged wife (?) try to question a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) into giving them some information other than cryptic threats.
Then: all hell breaks loose.
The vampires led by Marlow (Danny Huston) butcher the town. We get some excellent shots from overhead as the townsfolk are slaughtered. The ensuing bloodbath is great, and the chilly atmosphere and blood-soaked snow makes some of these sequences the most brutal vampire scenes in the last thirty years.
Eben and others hide in an attic as the vampires move from building to building trying to root out all survivors. There is a nice tension as the humans are absolutely outgunned. Seriously, the first half of this film is excellent.
However, the second half doesn’t work as well. Our characters are stuck in an attic, but the writers knew a direct assault by the vampires would leave too many dead, so we get an unclear reason to move. Even adding in a little bit about food running low would have helped here. The need to leave isn’t clear beyond wanting to ramp the tension up.
We also spend too much time on the fractured relationship between Eben and Stella. I think the filmmakers wanted to appeal to folks wanting a date night, so they shoehorned this aspect in when it doesn’t really fit the vibe of the film.
Perhaps the biggest flaw comes with the ending. So, spoiler warning.
The film abandons the overwhelming power of the vampires in favor of exciting set pieces. This leaves an inconsistency to their strength and to the tone of the film. The switch to action might be fun, but it loses the excellent horror vibe of the first half. I remember feeling the ending was weak when I saw this in theaters, and my opinion has not changed here.
We also get a weird change to vampire lore. As Eben realizes he can’t save Stella unless he sacrifices himself, he injects himself with vampire blood. When he goes toe to toe with Marlow, they are evenly matched, and of course our hero wins—what the hell? He should have been slaughtered. If we’re going to change what is probably the oldest aspect of vampire mythology: older=stronger it needs to be explained.
That might seem like a big thing to harp on, but why they ended it on a weird and anti-lore fistfight is something I won’t ever understand. Maybe the graphic novel gives more detail, but within the film it is perplexing at best.
It is a shame we have such an uneven second half for this one. I do think the film is worth seeing, but it just can’t stick the landing. However, we should support hard R-Rated horror when we can, and this one isn’t a complete failure. It will frustrate you as you think of how great it could have been.
Worth a rent or a stream.