Last week for my look at movies set in winter, I wrote about The Muppet Christmas Carol. This week I’m going in a completely different direction. There has been a resurgence in vampire movies in the last several years. One of the few to really try something different was 30 Days of Night. Usually in vampire movies, the way to avoid them is going out in the daylight hours when they hide in their coffins. 30 Days of Night solves that problem by setting the story in a time where a city is in total darkness. While the film got mixed reviews, it’s an interesting twist on the vampire movie.
As 30 Days of Night begins, the town of Barrow, Alaska is preparing for 30 straight days of darkness in the winter. As the city prepares, a stranger comes ashore and sabotages the town’s means of communication and transport to the outside world. Town sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) sets out to investigate. At the same time, he learns that estranged wide Stella (Melissa George) didn’t make the last plane out of Barrow. She will be riding out the 30 days of darkness in Barrow. That night, a band of vampires lead by Marlow (Danny Huston) slaughter most of the townspeople. Eben, Stella, Eben’s brother Jake (Mark Rendall), and a handful of survivors take shelter in a boarded up house.
Marlow eventually runs into the stranger that was instrumental in their takeover of the town. The stranger thinks Marlow will reward him by turning him into a vampire. *SPOILER ALERT!* Marlow does no such thing.
Eighteen days into the month of darkness, the survivors go for a supply run during a whiteout. They get stranded afterwards. But Eben manages to create a diversion that helps them get away. He burns the face of Marlow’s lover Iris with an ultraviolet light. Marlow is forced to kill Iris. The survivors eventually make it to the police station, but not without some casualties. One of my favorite parts of this sequence is when a bunch of vampires get mowed down by a tractor. This movie has some pretty inventive vampire kills.
Two weeks pass. The Stella and Eben catch up with deputy Billy (Manu Bennett). The survivors later take refuge in the utilidor of a power and sewage treatment station that still has power. As the month ends, the sun starts to come up and vampires start burning the town to cover their tracks. There’s a twist at the end that I dare not reveal. Enjoy the movie on your own.
30 Days of Night may not be the greatest vampire movie ever, But it’s one of the most creative. The survivors do things that are more or less plausible (I mean this is a movie with vampires in it after all). I was struck by the great look of the film (Jo Willems was the film’s cinematographer). You can feel the cold and the isolation in a way I haven’t experienced since The Shining. I’m not putting 30 Days of Night in that league. But it does create mood very well.
Another thing I like about this film is that it features not just one vampire, but a band of vampires. It gave me flashbacks to the underrated vampire film Near Dark. Danny Huston is convincing as the vampire leader Marlow. And I liked the interplay between Marlow and Eben. Josh Hartnett makes for a believable sheriff. And the film even has some solid scenes between Eben and his estranged wife Stella. Their relationship isn’t some tacked on plot device as often happens in horror movies.
30 Days of Night works best when it shows off the inventive ways the survivors take on the vampires. There’s the scene with the tractor I mentioned earlier. Plenty of movies have shown us vampires being taken out with crucifixes and holy water. But in 30 Days of Night people get more creative. That’s part of the fun of it. Director David Slade, whose resume includes Hard Candy and directing episodes of Hannibal and American Gods, brings a creative edge to the material. This is not a by the numbers vampire movie. And I find that refreshing. If you’re looking for a clever twist on a played out horror sub-genre, then 30 Days of Night should be on your winter movie viewing list.