Sunday, February 21, 2010
The town of Barrow, Alaska, is the most northern city of the United States. And for thirty days out of the years, the sun does not rise. On the day of the last sunset for the next month, Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) finds a series of bizarre vandalisms that he can’t quite place why they would be done. It culminates with his meeting of a stranger in the town’s dinner, who is becoming increasingly hostile because they won’t serve him a bowl of raw hamburger. Eben believes that this stranger is the cause of the crimes, but has no idea that this man is merely the scout for something much, much worse.
On the outskirts of town, a clan of vampires gather, and they are planning to turn Barrow into an all-you-can-eat buffet. They quickly begin to work their way in, as they destroy the communications center, kill the power, and begin to ravage those that live on the border. Their massacre reaches crescendo as they hit the town center, and begin ripping, shredding, clawing, biting, and drinking their way through the citizens. In the chaos, Eben, along with his estranged wife Stella, his brother, and a few of the lucky ones that managed to escape, hole up in the diner. For the next thirty days, they will have to maneuver from hiding spot to hiding spot, grabbing food where they can, and hoping against hope that they will survive. But as the endless nights wear on and desperation sets in, what will the few brave do to ensure the survival of the rest?
Adapted from the comic book mini-series of the same name by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, director David Slade (Hard Candy), along with producer Sam Raimi, brings to the screen a truly horrifying visage of survival horror, and the first truly inspiring and original vampire tale since Near Dark first ran almost twenty years ago.
Slade begins everything off by just bringing the cameras through the vast nothingness where Barrow is located, and sets the desperate tone of the inhabitants There is wonderful and ominous that Slade injects from the first frame of the movie, as if the townsfolk are already dead, and just don’t know it yet. As Eben makes his daily patrol, Slade takes his time trying to get the viewer familiar with the layout of Barrow and introduces most of the sorry souls that make up the secondary characters who will return later in the movie. Slade goes for a combination of classic jump scares that never once chicken out, and continues to expand on his ability to create tension-building atmosphere. And when he finally unleashes the hungering forces, Slade whips everything up into an anarchic frenzy and terrifying bloodletting that doesn’t pause for more than a brief moment until the screen finally goes to black.
Steve Niles, co-writes the screen adaptation, along with Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson. Hardcore fans may be disappointed to discover that it is not a direct page-to-screen translation, but don’t fear too much, as much of the main storyline remains untouched. A subplot involving a voodoo priestess hunting for vampire proof has been removed, as has much of the inner strife within the vampire clan. The vampires, while remaining very true visually to Templesmith’s nightmarish look, have been mostly reduced to growling screaming beasts. Much of Niles’ original snappy dialogue that painted them as rather intelligent creatures has been removed as well, with all but the most crucial lines that move along the plot remaining. Eben and his wife have also been transformed from a blissful couple to a pair on the brink of divorce, which while it adds a little dramatic tension, seemed completely unnecessary in the overall picture.
The script also adds several characters that were not originally in the comic book, and expands on those that are. These characters allow for a full spectrum of reactions to the terror brought upon the town, small character arcs thrown in to add depth to the carnage, and they even squeeze in a bit of heartache as loved ones are torn from each others arms, while others perform simply snap and perform unspeakable acts they never thought themselves capable of. This is survival horror at its most raw, and as the days creep by, so too does the script turn up the desperation and flaring tempers. Slade slowly tightens his camera shots as the film carries on, and brings the compositions from the wide expanses of the beginning to claustrophobic attics and stores, where the very walls seem to be closing in. Though this, Slade forces the viewer to be an unwilling member of the survivors, and to make it all the more terrifying, keeps information on a subjective learn-as-you-go level. You rarely know more than the characters on screen do.
One thing that Slade keeps pitch perfect in the translation is the sheer brutality of the vampires’ feeding habits. Key executions in blood-drenched panels are lifted exactly from the page, and the main massacre of the town, which takes up about twelve pages in the comic, is drawn out to an almost cruel and squeamish length. Weta Workshop is responsible for most of the film’s mayhem, and most of the effects appear to be done in-camera. Gorehounds will be particularly pleased with the unapologetic throat-tearing, decapitations, and headshots, made even more fun with the effects crew’s dedication to realism and the dirty ugly truth to the amount of damage the human body can take.
With a simple idea of pure genius, Niles and Templesmith brought to the horror community a comic book that was destined to be transformed into a movie. As an adaptation, 30 Days Of Night remains fairly faithful to its source and should be considered near the top of the list of comic book translations. As a stand alone horror movie, well this could just be the scariest movie of the year. This Halloween, forget tired sequels and rehashed ideas, and support a truly original idea. The sun is setting. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to see the daybreak?