Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Catching Up: 30 Days of Night

After being pleasantly surprised by the unfortunately titled Daybreakers, we decided it was time to track down 30 Days of Night, a vampire film we'd likewise heard positive things about.  It is assumed that anyone bothering to read this has seen the movie.  If that assumption is wrong, we warn you that worse things than vampires lurk below: spoilers are immune to garlic and can walk free beneath the sun.

30 Days of Night is a movie about vampires gaming the rules.  While the precise loophole exploited here isn't one we've seen before, there is a long tradition of supernatural creatures avoiding their weaknesses with such tricks.  Our favorite such story can be found in an issue of Swamp Thing penned by Alan Moore where vampires lived in the dark depths of a still lake like leeches.

At any rate, the premise of the movie is intriguing, and the film is beautifully shot.  The effects are well used, and the vampires are both believable and frightening.

Unfortunately, the movie is held back by several factors.  The most notable of these is the editing: the individual scenes are well constructed, but nothing seems to hold them together.  When the vampires are overrunning the town, for example, the main characters are strangely absent, which is fortunate as their attempts at heroics would no doubt have cost them their lives.

The human characters, particularly the leads, weren't particularly interesting, but they weren't bad enough to severely damage the movie.  The vampires were portrayed far better.

There were several plot holes and inconsistencies, and the final action scene made little to no sense at all.  For vampires smart enough to travel to the tip of civilization and use the tilt of the Earth as cover, they lacked the forethought to burn down the town and cover their tracks say, a few days earlier.  With all due respect to the heroic sacrifice of the film's main character, all he really had to do was wait five minutes for the sun to rise, and the vampires would have left on their own.  There was little indication the fire was spreading that quickly.

We were also a bit underwhelmed with the movie's choice of vampires.  Ultimately, there are really two archetypes for vampires used in film: the mythic and the scientific.  These designations are of course misleading: the "mythic" bear little in common with the mythology they're based on, while there is nothing remotely plausible about the "scientific" sort.  The vampires in 30 Days of Night are a rather extreme example of the scientific sort: their condition is, at least in theory, medical, their powers are portrayed as natural, and their weaknesses are less poetic than practical.  Wooden stakes are passed over for head removal, and even this seemed like overkill: a bullet through the head seemed to have the desired effect.

In our opinion, this would have benefited from a more supernatural spin on the creatures.  There are certainly times when the "viral" form of vampirism is suited to the story - Blade comes to mind.  As a rule of thumb, we might offer the notion that the less supernatural the setting, the more supernatural the vampires should seem.

If they'd been repulsed by crosses and killed by wooden stakes, the movie could have taken on a more fairytale sensibility which would have forgiven some of the plot-holes and given some weight to the closing shot.

As it was, this was a good horror film.  Visually, it looked as though it was going to be a good movie, but its strange inconsistencies and utter lack of gravitas kept it from greatness.

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