DECEMBER 3, 2009
The only real qualifying film that ever got suggested during my otherwise unsuccessful “October Extras” edition for 2009 was 30 Days Of Night, which I wasn’t overly wowed by back in 2007. But with all of the recent vampire stuff (Twilight, Vampire Diaries, True Blood) going for a tamer approach, I figured it might be nice to revisit the last major full-blown horror vampire tale, and see if it worked better on a 2nd time.
And it does! My primary problem with it remains, however - the depiction of time passing in this film is abysmal. If you take away the title cards, one might not even understand that more than a night or two has gone by (never got why the vampires kill pretty much all of the 127 residents in their first night, an action that makes the timeline even harder to get a grasp on), and Josh Hartnett’s atrocious beard is the only evidence that it’s been the titular 30 days. Normally I could care less about how long a film takes place over, but when it’s part of the goddamn concept, you’d think they’d put a little more effort into depicting that. I think they should have started the movie on the final night, down to a handful of survivors, and used a few flashbacks to show what happened. Not only would it prevent these sort of “how long has it been?” questions, but it would also allow them to focus on highlights instead of trying to show a narrative, another thing the film has trouble with.
I didn’t notice it the first time, but a LOT of things in this movie sort of happen out of nowhere, and I’m not sure why characters commit to such drastic actions at times. For example, why does Mark Boone Junior (in his only good guy role I can recall) suddenly go on a kamikaze mission? Likewise, why does Josh Hartnett inject himself with vampire blood when the sun was about to come up anyway? There were a few survivors still, he just as easily could have just run out to cause a distraction and the others could have saved Stella and the little girl (another out of nowhere plot development) in the meantime. It often feels like the movie is missing the sort of connective tissue that an A to B narrative would have that a flashback structure wouldn’t necessarily need.
But otherwise, I had a lot more fun this time around. The jump scares remain effective, and David Slade (ironically directing the next Twilight film, Eclipse) is a genius at creating subtle scares in the background (like the “bait” walking down the street, where only the most sharp-eyed viewer would see the almost completely out-of-focus vampire following her from a parallel rooftop). And even though I still don’t get why they had to break up Eben and Stella, it does have a few payoffs, such as the little moment where Stella clearly gets turned on watching Eben take down the creepy stranger (Ben Foster); a moment that wouldn’t be as important had the two been together in harmony.
And again, in the wake of Twilight and company, it’s nice to see vampires biting and slashing at people again. Even in 2007 it was sort of a welcome return to vampires being actual monsters, something that had gone by the wayside thanks to the Underworld films (where vampires would rather argue in chambers and shoot automatic weapons than actually bite anything) and a lot of indie films that took the “vampirism as disease” approach. Now it’s even more of a depressing “alternative” to watch a vampire actually FEED for once.
On Blu-ray the film really shines too. I’ve always said it was a well-shot film, and it makes for one of the best looking Blu-ray’s I’ve seen. Seeing Melissa George in high def glory is reason enough, but there’s something wonderful about seeing individual drops of blood on the snow, and even though the film is (obviously) quite dark, the higher resolution and contrast ratios afforded by the format keep it from looking murky or underlit. That it was nearly all shot during the day, and that the town largely existed on an INTERIOR soundstage makes it all the more impressive.
Those are two things I learned on the 50 minutes’ worth of featurettes included on the disc (not sure if they are on the standard def). It’s a very nuts n’ bolts look at the process of creating the film, going into more-than-usual detail on story development, set construction, photography (the film was originally going to be shot digitally; Slade and his DP successfully battled against such a terrible idea), etc. We also pretty much learn 100% for sure that Sam Raimi had fuck all to do with this movie’s production (much like all other Ghost House productions), with Robert Tapert doing all the executive producing work. Strangely, Hartnett and George barely appear in the pieces, even though they did provide a commentary (with Slade) that I didn’t bother to listen to, seeing as Slade already said a lot on the making of stuff and I generally don’t care what actors have to say unless I am specifically a fan of that actor (and even then, not so much. Ever hear Willis on a commentary? Yikes). Sadly, there aren’t any deleted scenes. I assume that the rushed feel of the plot/timeline is at least partially due to some editing (the movie is just under two hours, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was even longer and they scaled it back as much as they could) but if so there is no evidence of it here. Maybe when the sequel comes along Sony will miraculously find a longer cut to release around the same time.
Until then, I still think the movie is weakened by its lack of patience with characters, as well as the non-vampire aspect of surviving the 30 days, but it’s still a fun (but not funny), refreshingly violent take on the story; a nice companion piece to Snyder’s take on zombies in (the far more successful) Dawn of the Dead. Now, if someone could make a werewolf movie with the same sort of gusto...
What say you?