Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
As a transplanted New Yorker living in Seattle, I sometimes feel so isolated from my old friends and family out here that I feel a sort of kinship with Alaska. That’s why, when I heard the promising premise of this latest vampire movie, I allowed my expectations to soar. 30 Days of Night is supposed to take place in Barrow, a town on the northern tip of Alaska, otherwise known as “way the hell up there.” Living away from the major movie-making hubs, I also knew that there was no chance that a movie crew would trek all the way up to Alaska, so after a quick visit to the indispensable IMDB.com, I discovered that it was filmed in New Zealand. As disappointing as this was, it must have been one of the selling points when trying to land an actor such as Danny Huston to play the lead vampire. Yes, I said Danny (21 Grams, The Aviator, Children of Men) Huston. It took me a few scenes to realize it was him beneath the pale make-up and bloody mouth, and then it took me even longer to figure out why he took the role. Maybe it was a free trip to New Zealand, or possibly it was to sink his teeth (GOD I’m sorry. I couldn’t’ resist) into something he had never done before (or will hopefully ever do again). It certainly couldn’t have been to work with Josh Hartnett, or as my friend remarked, “That guy is like Ashton Kutcher without the talent.”
So back to the movie. As I stated earlier, 30 Days of Night takes place in Barrow, Alaska. During the winter solstice, Barrow has a month where there is no sun light; the sun actually rises and sets at the same minute. Great idea for a vampire flick for sure. What possibilities! However my heart began to sink a bit during the first few minutes when the film presents this thirty days of darkness as though it’s sunny for hours the day before, then suddenly dark for a month. Anyone with a brain knows that it doesn’t work that way. Barrow, like the rest of the earth, gets fewer and fewer minutes of sunlight each day until finally there is none. So the day before “total darkness” there would only be a few minutes of sunlight. This might seem like nitpicking, and if the falsehoods ended there it would be. But they don’t, not by a long shot. Here’s another: toward the beginning, one of the characters is rushing to the airport so that she doesn’t miss the last flight out before “total darkness.” My friend at Alaska Airlines would like to inform everyone that they Alaska does possess the technology to fly at night.
Doing a bit more research I found out that the population of Barrow is around 4,500, even though the film shows the population to be at 500 before “total darkness” when it drops to 150. The population is also nearly 70 percent Native American, while in the film we get Josh Hartnett as the Sheriff and a bunch of other white people as residents. More research shows that because it’s so damn cold in Barrow during the winter, it is too dry for much snow. In fact they get less snow than places such as Denver and Chicago. Yet in the film there is one major blizzard after another. You still don’t care do you? You want to know about the vampires right? Who cares about these sloppy errors?
Well, once “total darkness” sets in, the blood suckers take over the town and Hartnett and the few remaining residents of the town must run from one hideout to another in order to avoid being sucked and eaten by Huston and his gang. The vampires speak a weird language to one another and Huston is constantly saying things like, “What a plague you people are” and “We should have come here sooner.” However he mostly looks confused though, probably because he knows the same things about Barrow that I do. His teeth as in most vampire movies are very sharp. His mouth as in most vampire movies has blood dripping from it. As in most vampire movies they dig into a victim’s neck and suck the life out of it. In fact I can’t think of any vampire cliché that’s not in this movie. Did I say that their skin burns from ultra-violet rays?
We never really know why these vampires are in Barrow or why they have taken so long to get there. And what do they do for the other 11 months? I hope they know not to come back during the summer when there is “total sunlight” for a month. There doesn’t seem to be a greater reason for them to be there other than to suck everyone dry and destroy the town. Not very enterprising or creative are these vampires, and neither is this movie. The town is used much like the mall was used in Dawn of the Dead as the characters move from one place to another to avoid the vamps. Just as in that movie and countless vampire flicks if you are bitten by one you will become one. In fact there seems to be at least one scene to suit everyone’s tastes (SORRY!) or should I say to satisfy every cliché. Bullets won’t kill the vamps (surprise!) but a good ole axe to the neck will. Trying to run from them in a small town for 30 days won’t work if you haven’t figured that out already.
Danny Huston tries his Shakespearean best to make something of his role and he probably ends up being the best thing about the movie. Hartnett to his credit does a marginally better job than Ashton Kutcher would have done. The direction by David (Hard Candy) Slade is slick and efficient but it’s to no avail as the story which is based on a graphic novel is, much like its vampires, D.O.A. It seems as though Hollywood just can’t scare us anymore. I mean what’s next, a film about witches set in Seattle in which they would have to do their evil deeds before the rainy season comes and they melt away? I wonder where THAT movie would be filmed?