Though ultimately a mess, ‘Night’ at least attempts to bring back some bite to the basically defanged vampire genre. Much like the Steve Niles graphic novel it’s based on, a simple but great setup and some effective atmospheric visuals are the standouts amongst an otherwise weak narrative and over-reliance on gore.
‘Days’ sets up a premise of which the great John Carpenter would be proud. A remote Alaskan township finds itself besieged by vampires during the month long night experienced at latitudes so close to the North Pole. Unlike most horror films of late which have turned vampires into sympathetic or romantic creatures, these are old school Gothic beasts talking in an ancient language and attacking like vicious feral dogs with a mouthful of fangs and endless appetites.
Unfortunately the film’s director David Slade, the man behind the impressive emasculation thriller “Hard Candy,” fails to live up to the Carpenter standard. Sequences change tone drastically throughout, from the clumsy slow buildup that heralds the arrival of the creatures, to the vampire attacks combining surprisingly large amounts torture porn style gore, bursts of screeching sound and quick cut MTV editing which make it feel more like watching a bad music video than a horror film.
These jarring changes, combine with some serious script problems, rob the film of any real suspense or atmosphere – a real waste considering the premise is so ripe for a genuinely tense thriller about innocent people under siege. 1982’s “The Thing” worked a similar ice-bound paranoia theme to such extent as to become a modern classic – giving us characters to root for and understanding that tension has to be built upon and reinforced gradually throughout. ’30 Days’ not only fails to utilise the setting or characters to its benefit, but the ticking clock of sunrise as well.
The vampires themselves are beautifully realised. The crew have translated the stylised drawings of the comic quite faithfully, with makeup and just enough CG tweaking to make the vamps other worldly and quite creepy. Despite speaking in some kind of ancient tongue translated via subtitles, the charisma of actor Danny Huston shines through to make his vampire leader character a commanding presence.
It’s not hard considering the rest of the cast are a waste of underwritten tedium. Whilst Josh Hartnett is the biggest name on hand, his range remains as frozen as an ice shelf throughout the film – making it easy for Melissa George to steal the thunder out from under him with a low key but dedicated performance. Ben Foster, who so impressed last month in “3:10 to Yuma”, takes it over the top as a wide-eyed loon warning of impending doom.
There’s some great visuals, from the obvious location shooting to a slowly spreading bonfire across the entire town – the cinematography is top notch in a way that makes some of the more obvious lacklustre production design, editing and score stand out more. Pacing veers all over but the film definitely runs on for a good fifteen minutes too long, despite some obvious cuts that wreak havoc with the film’s continuity. There are moments of both sheer viciousness and scant emotion that click well, but otherwise this is as cold and dead as the Undead figures roaming the streets.