October 24th, 2007

there!, Hello

Frankenstein Filmmaking: a review for 30 Days of Night

Last night, hntrpyanfar and I went to see 30 Days of Night for $5 movie nite (every Tuesday, Showcase Worcester North has ticket prices for all films, all day reduced to $5).

The short: definitely worth the $5.

The long review:
The northernmost US town (Barrow, Alaska) finds itself plagued with problems as its annual month of darkness arrives. The situation gets tense, as the populace soon discovers that these incidents are no mere slew of accidents but the meticulous planning of a pack of sadistic vampires cutting off the town. Why? So they can enjoy a 30 day, nonstop frolic of blood, butchery, mayhem, and... Well, that's about it.

Essentially the movie falls under that terror cinema subgenre known as the Survival Horror Film. While SHFs typically involves the shambling/speedy dead (ghouls or zombies or whatever you'd like to call them), this time around we've got the classic bloodsuckers, amped up into fast and furious killing machines (who remain intelligent and crafty adversaries!). There are plenty of gorgeous shots (a dark ice breaker lurks in a frozen sea in the distant background of a mystery man stumbling across a glacier; the last sunset of the month, where that great, bloody egg of a sun vanishes past the horizon; an overhead tracking shot through the town as its skeleton crew citizenry have their first and only major skirmish with the invading vamps) and, surprise surprise, a cast of mostly adults (by no means the norm in horror flicks anymore) coping with the siege of their community. All told, a fun (if rather bloody) mess of a movie, made all the more delightful by the fact that it is essentially a stitched together homages to many terror cinema pieces that I've long enjoyed.

You've got 'Salem's Lot, with the mood, pacing and snowy setting of John Carpenter's The Thing (as well as the angry dog response shots from The Thing). You've got a heavy metal ice cutter homage to Army of Darkness' Deathcoaster (its boomstick wielding driver only cements this), which is incorporated into a protracted, heroic death sequence ala Pvt Hudson from Aliens. You've got a spooky dude locked in jail straight out of Storm of the Century. You've got bad guys that are one part the rage infected "zombies" of 28 Days/Weeks Later and two parts the savage velociraptors from Jurassic Park (with the look of the great Les Edwards painting that adorns the Leisure Books edition of Simon Clark's novel Vampyrric)... And the homages go on...

Josh Hartnett broods with the best of them, and Melissa George (his character's estranged wife) is terminally cute (I've enjoyed watching her since Alias). The tension between these characters (much like the tough decisions and moral writhing done by the cast of humans) is played out with subtlety (and mostly through body language). I rather enjoyed that fact. The entire cast wrings as much as they can out of what are (at best) two dimensional characters.

The real stumbling block for me was the timing of the events. As the title suggests, the film's tale spins out over 30 days. However, there are only a few title cards to let us know the transitions. 7 Days. or 27 Days. Uh. What are these times in relation to what's gone on before? Has anything major occurred between then and now? Apparently the answer to this is: not really. We don't even get references to the passage of time (save for facial hair growth). It is as though the characters are locked in a temporal bubble, while time passes around them.

A second quandary I had was: where are all these wandering people coming from? I'm supposing the vampires did not butcher everyone in their initial attack (they probably kept some folks around for later; otherwise, 30 days is a looong time between meals), but if this was referenced, then I missed it. Whenever we saw vampires "interacting" with people, they were scenes of slaughter. No breathing leftovers. Yet at various times, new faces (well, I suppose technically, they're all similar combat shocked and terrified faces) show up stumbling like war refugees through the streets. Who is this one? Where did she come from? And why haven't the vampires... Oh wait, there's one following her. The first instance (aka Bait) was fine (actually delightfully smart). But the later instances were.... Disorienting. Perhaps a second viewing will bring clarity to this.

So, end result? I'd say 30 Days of Night is bloody, grim, survival horror joy. Awful in all the right ways. Definitely worth the price of admission.

Trailer Bonus: Before 30DoN, we saw the trailer for Frank (Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption) Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's terror story The Mist, and it looks fan-freakin-TASTIC! Plenty of nightmarish scenes from the original novella (one of my favorite King pieces, actually) have made it properly onto the screen. If I've ever "squee"-ed, well, then I was probably doing so while watching that trailer...

-- DRR2