30 Days of Night
Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston
Directed by David Slade
Isolation is one of the most effective tools of the horror movie: the secluded cabin in the woods, the stranded car on the side of the road, the abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere. In 30 Days of Night, that sense of helplessness, of being cut off from any aid the outside world could offer, is intensified and used to great effect, making the small town of Barrow, Alaska, feel like a terrifying prison for the movie’s main characters.
That’s because they’re being stalked and killed by vampires, drawn by Barrow’s titular month of darkness, which happens in the dead of winter thanks to the town’s proximity to the North Pole. Tiny Barrow only has about 150 inhabitants this time of year, and it’s also got no roads out and no air transport until the sun rises again.
Free to roam about at all hours of the day, the bloodthirsty monsters find resistance only in the town’s stalwart sheriff, Eben Oleson (Hartnett), and his estranged wife, Stella (George), a fire marshal and former co-worker of her husband’s.
Based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (which has spawned numerous sequels), Night sometimes stretches to make its story fit to feature length, adding numerous secondary characters who serve mostly as fodder for the vampires. But director Slade effectively builds suspense throughout most of the film, stretching one long night over an entire month, and giving those minor characters enough personality that you care whether they live or die. The vampires themselves are vicious and ugly, nothing like the romanticized versions that tend to populate modern horror films. Slade and his makeup team do a good job of approximating the creatures’ grotesque look from Templesmith’s sketchy, abstract art.
This is a gory, nasty movie that never gives its characters or its audience a moment’s rest. It’s got no cute, self-aware touches, no pretenses to social relevance (unlike Slade’s last film, the frustrating Hard Candy). It’s just monsters coming to get you, the cold creeping in under your skin and absolutely nobody around to help.