Thursday, March 6, 2008

30 Days of Night. Out now (******6/10)

There have been hundreds of movies made about vampires. Vampires themselves have become so pervasive in our culture that movies no longer need to explain them. The rules are set. A vampire bites you, you become one. You kill them by stabbing them with wood through the heart, or by getting them into the sunlight, or by throwing holy water on them or by hiring Wesley Snipes. Therefore, it is fairly difficult to make a vampire movie that has a fresh, new concept. And 30 Days of Night does not try to do so. On the surface, it appears to be a very by-the-numbers vampire flick. One with a neat premise - in Alaska, there is an entire month (30 days) where there is no sun. As such, creatures who are light-sensitive, such as vampires, would be free to roam around all day every day and destroy all the people in a small Alaskan town. And this is where the movie begins. Another great thing about vampire movies is that you never need to question the motivation of the bad guys. They're vampires. Vampires = bad. Bad = killing humans. No more questions.

So, in that sense, this is a vampire movie. The creatures can't handle UV light, and they are in town simply to hunt and kill all humans. Never mind why. No one cares, least of all the humans who are being hunted. However, no wooden stakes through the heart for these baddies. No, the only way to kill them, other than sunlight, is beheading. Which leads to some pretty gory ax-to-the-throat scenes. So...are these really vampires? 'Cause...they kinda are, and kinda aren't...again, who cares? Not the people. They just want to hide and run and then, eventually, as all people do in films like this one, kill all their enemies. Josh Hartnett plays a cop in this small Alaskan town, reprising his standard Pearl Harbouresque role as the smiley hot guy love interest, the poor man's Heath Ledger. The director is David Slade, who did an excellent but very hard-to-watch pedophile-related movie recently called Hard Candy. (It stars a diabolical and creepy Ellen Page before Juno.) And the de-rigeur hot chick is played by Melissa George. At the beginning of the film, she is fighting with Hartnett and racing to catch a plane away from Alaska. Do we wonder at all whether she'll make it to the plane? Or patch up her relationship before the movie ends? Do we care? Make with the quasi-vampires already.

And they do. Ben Foster (Russell Crowe's right-hand man in 3:10 To Yuma) has a creepy turn as the foreshadower of the invasion, and the creepy bad guys show up 19 minutes in. There is a genuinely startling rock-paper-scissors scene, a painful oh-it's-grandma-smoking-the-weed scene, and someone uses the phrase "coked up on PCP". I don't think it was meant to be ironic. Snow, it turns out, is a terrific canvas to better show blood spatter - Dexter would be in his element here. And this movie is definitely gory, sometimes gross, often creepy, but somehow rarely scary, if at all. Once we have seen the vampires in all their glory, there isn't much to frighten us any more. In fact, the last half hour of this almost-two-hour movie has less in common with horror movies than it does with old westerns. This town ain't big enough for the both of us, and that sort of thing. And that's the real problem with 30 Days of Night. It is too long. There are some genuinely tense moments, some terrific shocks and some great ideas. But by the end, we have either guessed the ending or we no longer care, and we're kinda glad the whole thing is over. My fingers are tired. I'm glad this review's over.

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