Saturday, April 12, 2008

"30 Days of Night"

2007; directed by David Slade; written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson; based on the comic book 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

Friends and long-time readers of this blog know I think vampires are so tired they can barely drag themselves out of their coffins of an evening. That's why I skipped 30 Days of Night when it came to theaters last October.

But on Friday, with the film staring me in the face on Pay-per-View and nothing else to watch, I decided to give it a try. The story does have an interesting twist: it takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in America, which (according to the film) goes without sunlight for an entire month each winter.

This single insight conjured up all kinds of fantasies in my imagination about the film. I pictured a small town in a hostile environment, its citizens caught in a month-long siege against the forces of nature, darkness and the undead. And while the film satisfied these expectations, it also steadfastly refused to exceed them in any way whatsoever.

Josh Hartnett stars as Barrow's too young-looking sheriff, who's trying to keep a lid on things while most of the town's population vacates it before darkness falls. Left behind with him are his younger brother and grandmother, a pot-growing cancer patient; a few assorted townspeople with various skills which will come in handy later on, his ex-wife, who missed the last plane out of town, and a mysterious stranger who predicts death and destruction for everyone left behind.

No sooner does the sun set than the vampires -- a group of normally dressed folks with ragged choppers and slightly feline features -- descend upon the town, wreaking havoc and drinking their fill of the townspeople's blood.

It's after this initial string of attacks -- when Hartnett and his band have set up camp in the attic of an abandoned home -- that the story fast-forwards a number of days, a technique used throughout the rest of the film which, frankly, caused me to say, "Huh?"

In the screenwriters' defense, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to show a little bit of every day during Barrow's month of darkness. In a 90-minute film, that would leave only three minutes of screen time for each day. But neither is the chosen tactic of skipping huge swaths of time -- seven, nine, ten days at a stretch -- an ideal solution. By only showing the story's high points -- i.e., the action scenes -- I found myself more involved with wondering what happened during the gaps and less interested in what was unfolding on screen.

Perhaps a better approach lies somewhere between these two extremes. With some glimpses of the day-to-day (or night-to-night, if you prefer) life of the townspeople, I might have been able to develop a deeper understanding and sympathy with these characters, and share in their sense of desperate isolation.

As it is, the film devolves into one noisy action sequence after another, with barely a moment taken to reflect on what's happened or the lives that are lost. It left me feeling disengaged from the characters and their story and, frankly, bored. In fact, it was at some point toward the final third of the film that I actually fell asleep, despite all the noise and sturm und drang.

It was Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire that first injected new blood into the vampire mythos some thirty years ago, and it seems that every film and book released since has either tried to cash in on Rice's original vision or one-up her in the reinvention game. 30 Days, with its unusual setting and intriguing premise, was obviously trying to accomplish the latter. Unfortunately, it failed to do so, leaving me to wish that the bloodthirsty undead would just die already. At least for a little while.

1 comment:

John Hornor Jacobs said...

Wow. You watch a lot of movies. How do you get any writing done?

How is the writing coming?