Good vampire flicks can still be made. I’m not necessarily looking for Citizen Kane, I don’t even need brooding romantic figures (please, spare me anymore emo vamps). I’m talking something dark, brutal, and efficient, a la Near Dark. I’m not even a gorehound, but I know what I want from certain movies.
Based on the eponymous comic book by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night follows a set of vampires who besiege the small, isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, during the month of no sun. The constantly shrieking bunch of vampires is commanded by Marlow (Danny Huston), in full pasty Euro-trash mode as they launch into a full-scale slaughter of the town. The Gary Cooper-esque sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett ), leads the surviving, though equally pasty, townsfolk.
A lot of the blunt, visceral action is reminiscent of 28 Days Later (even the look of the blood-drenched vamps with their maws of incisors are more zombie-like). The similarities are made moreso by the jittery camera work that conveys the frenetic speed, strength and thirstiness of the violent night wraiths. The vivid images flash by so that you can’t take in the entirety of the horror, all done to a jarring, amelodic soundtrack.
“Folks have a hard enough time in the dark.” –Lucy Ikos (Elizabeth Hawthorne)
30 Days of Night boils down to being a tale of survival during an undead apocalypse. It seems like all of the forces of creation are lined up against the surviving batch of humanity. First from the vampires themselves, this outside evil—the supernatural other of powers and principalities. As Marlow relaties, it took them centuries to make people believe they were little more than bad dreams and the reality of them would be too great and cause people to actively fight against them. Second, Nature itself. The night and the cold, though perfectly inherent to the system, now seem allied against them. Thirdly, they have to wrestle with themselves. Their very natures, including their weakness, from cowardice to selfishness, provide constant obstacles for them. And yet, through all of this, they fight to keep their humanity or, more specifically, what makes them human.
“That cold ain’t the weather. That’s Death approaching.” – The Stranger (Ben Foster)
Preceding the arrival of the vampires is their brown-toothed forerunner, a John the Baptist-type preparing the way for them by helping to further isolate the town. All of his actions are in the hope of the reward of eternal life through the power of blood promised to him and we all learn the lesson of being careful who you put your faith in.
“There is no escape. No hope. Only pain and death.” –Marlow
What was attempted, with mixed result, was presenting the idea of vampires as the ultimate nihilists. For them, the world, especially the bulk of human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. And that neither God nor a “true morality” exists, leaving Marlow to proselytize “God? No God” when a woman cries out for divine intervention. As such, they leave a bloody wake as they merrily trip through life seeking to sate their pleasures. So what the movie truly seems to be about is the idea of unchecked freedom.
Barrow represents a smorgasbord for the blood-dining crown. They can roam about at will, eat from a buffet line of trailer homes, and basically give into their gluttony and excess. Their lives are reduced to wild, wanton wastes of wants and needs, being driven solely by desires, much like children without any parental supervision.
“When a man meets a force he can’t destroy, he destroys himself instead.” –Marlow
Self-control and restraint are the sphere of adults. Lust burns hot until it burns through and burns out. There’s a reason people live by laws, not so much to restrain freedom but to serve as guard rails. A guard rail won’t keep you from going over the edge, but it provides a line to help people stay on the best side for them and help them not abuse the gift of their freedom.
“I just couldn’t stand being on my own.” –Billy Kitka (Manu Bennett)
Lastly, the movie is about the nature of community and love. It is a story of continual self-sacrifice, of one man laying down his life for his brother, continuous acts of love staving off the darkness for another day. Each action serves to remind folks that they are still connected. The epitome of such sacrifice arrives when Eben takes on the burden of blood, taking the evil onto him, bearing the brunt of it, sacrificing himself to defeat evil. The ultimate salvation in the sun’s light; until then, we just reflect it as best we can.
30 Days of Night suffers mostly from its episodic feel (the slow stretches as we wait for the next batch of townfolks to end up as snackables) and the unrelenting bleakness of the story. We don’t care about any of the characters, not even the supposed romantic tension between the sheriff and his estranged-but-conveniently-stranded wife, Stella (Melissa George). Despite the arterial sprays (not having seen this much since the first Kill Bill), the movie actually fails to mine the true horror, as no one wrestles with the moral dilemmas of their actions or doing what they have to do to survive. In other words, while there is plenty of vampire romp, there’s not enough of a human element to draw us in.
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