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30 Days of Night *

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Hartnett, George struggle to survive their 30-day encounter with an army of blood-hungry vampires.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior. Rated R.

30 Days of Night draws its inspiration from a graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith that dared to re-imagine vampires as feral consumers, stripped of their gothic pretensions and driven only by a frenzied lust for blood.

It’s a subtle twist on traditional Bram Stoker-Anne Rice vampire mythology, though it doesn’t really break much new ground. While some have credited Niles and Templesmith with ushering horror comics into the 21st century with their stark vision of ravenous killers running amok in a remote Alaskan town, their storytelling, as apparent in David Slade’s mostly faithful adaptation, is unexceptional.

The villains in 30 Days of Night are no different from the rabid zombies who inhabited Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later – save, of course, for their aversion to garlic cloves and daylight – and when they arrive in Barrow, where darkness reigns unabated for one month each winter, panic ensues. Dozens are dead within seconds, torn to shreds in a series of hurried, frantically incoherent close-ups, leaving a handful of survivors to seek refuge in an attic. It is a strategy ripped from the Night of the Living Dead playbook, and a losing one at that.

Tempers flare. Beau (Mark Boone Junior) wants payback. Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) know only that they need to keep moving if they want to survive. Then there are the unfortunate few who wander into the night, crying out for help, apparently having never seen 28 Days Later, Night of the Living Dead, or any scary movies, for that matter.

The action is fast and gruesome, but beyond Niles and Templesmith’s unique setting, in which the typical race to daylight is stretched out to an agonizing marathon, 30 Days of Night offers little to stir the imagination. It is a humorless exercise, shot in murky, monochromatic tones and liberally splattered with fake blood, but where is the suspense? Slade, in his long-awaited follow-up to the promising Hard Candy, relies on shattering acts of violence to set the mood, but never gives us reason to care about them.

Here, the survivors are only marginally more interesting than the vampires, who roam the streets in finely tailored suits, gritting their fangs and howling at the moon. Only one, played by Danny Huston, is granted speaking privileges, albeit in some arcane vampire dialect. He spends his time waxing philosophical about the impotence and futility of mankind, in a series of monologues that must have seemed menacing on paper. On screen, they lack bite.

How do the other bloodsuckers communicate? Who does their dry cleaning during the off-seasons? And why does The Stranger (Ben Foster) – the only truly interesting character in the movie – want so badly to join their curiously uninteresting clan? These and other perfectly legitimate questions remain unanswered by the time 30 Days of Night reaches its conclusion, which is clever to a point, but should be instantly familiar to fans of Guillermo del Toro’s far superior Blade II.

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