"We should have come here ages ago." – Marlow
There must be something in the snow. Something about the bitter cold. My favorite horror movie, if not my favorite overall flick, is John Carpenter's The Thing. It's a study in paranoia and fear as a small group tries to survive in Antarctic conditions against a merciless alien organism. 30 Days of Night takes that vibe and adds vampires.
Just so I'm clear, that's a good thing. 30 Days of Night is easily the best vampire movie I've seen in the last ten, if not twenty years.
The movie's premise is deceptively simple. It's set in the tiny town of Barrow, Alaska, just before the sun sets and doesn't come back up for a month. About half the town is heading south, leaving the hearty souls who can handle that long in the dark.
As everyone's hurrying around, saying their goodbyes, we follow Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh "Sin City" Hartnett) as he investigates a batch of vandalism. It's clear to us these acts are designed to isolate the town, but Eben's distracted because his wife Stella (Melissa "The Amityville Horror" George) is leaving town, and leaving him as well.
We meet other Barrow residents like hunter Beau (Mark "Batman Begins" Boone Jr.), Eben's brother Jake and grandmother, diner owner Denise, and Deputy Billy. Most are your standard friendly small town folk who enjoy living out in the backwoods. Mind you, this is about as far into the boonies as you can get. Instead of trees and squirrels, we've got tundra and polar bears.
Once more, I remind everyone to avoid the backwoods.
Stella doesn't make it to the airport in time, and is stuck in town with everyone else. In a romantic comedy, this is where she and Eben would eventually fall back in love while arguing in the dark. Thankfully, this is a horror movie, and they try and work out their marriage as they try and not die.
Just as the sun sets, Eben is called to the town diner about a stranger (Ben "X-Men 3" Foster) causing trouble. This odd man has bloody hands and demands raw hamburger. Eben arrests him, and the stranger goes Renfield, warning that death is coming.
And come it does.
Once full dark sets in, a pack of vampires descends. Led by Marlow (Danny "Children of Men" Huston), the movie descends into blood-soaked darkness, a riot of blood and violence. Ebon and the others run and hide, figuring out how they're going to survive until the sun returns.
This movie is amazing. From the opening scene it's seeped in mood as much as it is in blood. Blood on snow is gripping, and this movie tosses gallons of the red stuff on the white stuff. There's a scene where the camera flies over the town during the initial rampage, with people running, vampires chasing, cars burning, guns firing and blood everywhere. We also have beheadings, maiming, and all of it on-camera thanks to geniuses at Weta Workshop. This movie earns its R.
But there's more than gore. Director Slade builds the tension taut as a guitar string and uses the darkness to great effect. This dark, brooding mood is unflinching and unrelenting until the very end.
The cast does solid work as people terrified out of their minds, trying to escape the bloodsuckers. Hartnett and George are great, and you can feel the love between their characters rekindle in the face of darkness. I also have to praise Nathaniel Lees, who played General Mifune in the Matrix sequels. He was one of the best things in those two flicks, and here he has an emotional monologue that will tear out your heart.
What I love best, though, is the way it handles the vampires. For the last few years, vampires have either been angst-filled people suffering the curse (see Moonlight, Angel, Forever Knight or the Anne Rice books) sometimes spouting off goth poetry, or they've been latex-encased refugees from a BDSM club (see Underworld or Blade 2).
These vampires are human sharks. Their mouths are filled with either triangular or needle teeth that tear flesh open, leaving their jaws and necks covered in blood. Their nails are long raking claws they use to rip and shread. Their eyes are narrow, soulless black pits. They're strong, fast and merciless. No angst-filled members in this bunch.
Huston exudes power and control as Marlow, directing his followers with nods, gestures and some odd, screeching language. While they have no lines, each member of the pack has a distinctive personality. You can believe they've stalked humans in the night together for ages, and now finally get to cut loose and revel in their abilities, instead of hiding in the shadows.
30 Days of Night is dark, moody, genuinely scary, and razor sharp. It makes vampires into true monsters again.