Saturday, October 20, 2007

Movies: 30 Days of Night

• A clever premise aids the outstanding vampire flick 30 Days of Night.

Genre: Horror, vampire, adaptation
Director: David Slade
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Danny Huston, Mark Boone Jr., Mark Rendall
Verdict: &&&&1/2

It's such a simple yet brilliant idea, one marvels that it hasn't been done before: Set a vampire tale in the land where the sun doesn't rise. The result, 30 Days of Night, is brutal, engrossing, and one of the best horror films of the 2000s.

Based on a horror comic series by Steve Niles, it takes place in tiny Barrow, Alaska, a frozen landscape made more uninviting by the setting of the sun for a full month. As the "final" sunset approaches, young Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, instantly likable here as the amiable town caretaker) has his hands full with odd occurrences of vandalism in his chilly burg, and his unease escalates as he visits a kennel where all the dogs have been knifed and the town diner, where a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) requests a bowl of raw red meat and comes to blows with the sheriff. From his jail cell, Foster is exceptionally creepy as he warns that "they" are coming and wonders aloud who'll be killed first — Oleson's younger brother, Jake (Mark Rendall); his grandmother/dispatcher; or his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), who missed the last flight out of town and will be forced to reevaluate her relationship with Oleson.

The stranger proves to be right; these opening scenes build a palpable sense of dread that is realized as a band of vampires begins a full-throttle feeding frenzy. Attacking with unbridled ferocity, the vampires quickly take out much of the town, leaving little hope for anyone to survive the onslaught. Sheriff Oleson and a small group hole up in a well-hidden attic, aiming to stay out of sight. It's not giving away too much to say that various circumstances will expose certain members of the group, and the numbers gradually dwindle. As the unlucky survivors transform, the genial sheriff is forced to do unthinkable things to hold the group together.

The forbidding location, with blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures, heightens the overwhelming bleakness. The movie's portrayal of the blood-soaked vampires brings nothing radically new to the table, but it is so tautly crafted that it doesn't matter. A lesser movie wouldn't dare go where this one does in the final act; I wanted to shout "No!" at the screen. I'm glad I didn't look at the critics' reviews before going to this movie, and I'm frankly puzzled by the negative reactions — it baffles me that anyone who has watched some of the awful horror movies of the last couple of years can carve the knives over this stylish entry in the vampire genre. 30 Days of Night is simply a must for anyone who enjoys thoughtfully executed horror.

Pictured: Sheriff Oleson (Josh Hartnett) takes matters in hand.

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