Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2007

Shadow of the vampires

Monotonous '30 Days of Night' sure looks nice, but what happened to everything else?

30 Days of Night
Sony Pictures
Director: David Slade
Screenplay: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Manu Bennett and Mark Rendall
Rated R / 1 hour, 53 minutes
Opened October 19, 2007
(out of four)

What happened to you, Vampires? I expected so much. I mean . . . look, don't take this the wrong way . . . you're great. So it pains me to say this, but you've never really lived up to your full potential.

I mean, come on - you're a bunch of bloodsucking monsters of the night. Provided you stay inside during the day, you're practically immortal. You're scary, you're dangerous, you're sexy, you're refined . . . and I just can't help but feeling like you haven't done nearly as much as you could have on the silver screen. I mean, folklore is one thing - but movies are where you become a star!

Don't get me wrong, you've had your moments. When F.W. Murnau and Carl Dreyer had their hands on you, you were fabulous, baby. Absolutely stunning. Since that time . . . well you've kinda been on auto-pilot. Every now and then - whenever you feel like it, it seems - for a fleeting moment or two you're awesome again. But other than that, you've just been kind of . . . well, lame. Disappointing to the say the least. Really, how many really great vampire movies have there been? Only a few, I'd say - and recently it's gotten worse. Underworld? Really? Van Helsing? I mean, I know you always wanted to work with Kate Beckinsale -- who wouldn't? But you can do better than that.

Why can't you be more like your reanimated-corpse brother, the Zombie? There's no shortage of good zombie movies. On the cinematic landscape, they've beaten you soundly. The Walking Undead have had you for breakfast, Vampires. Literally. Strength in numbers, I guess. You've got some catching up to do. Shape up, or you're going to have to find a real job!

Which brings us to 30 Days of Night, the first attempt at a serious vampire movie in quite a while that actually makes some headway. Based on the well-regarded graphic novel, the film sets up a great backdrop and an interesting approach to its vampire characters before falling into a narrative rut that it can't quite pull itself out of.

It's the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska - exactly the kind of place the vampires we meet live for. It's the dead of winter and the whole town is shut down for the next month. Nobody's coming in, nobody's getting out. They can have their way with the town and, by the time the sun comes out 30 days from now, no one will know they were ever there.

There's something different about these vampires. They run in packs, like werewolves. They speak an unusual language. Their presence seems to mean something - at least to the ominous Stranger (Ben Foster) who walks into town just before nightfall to ring in the vampires' presence. Only it's not just that - it's the Stranger that has brought them here, and he wants them to take him with them. More than your garden-variety vampires, indeed.

Naturally, the massacre will begin suddenly - and even more naturally, we will get a collection of people with easy-to-read character traits fighting for survival leading up to a bloody showdown of some sort. The principles in this case are the sheriff, Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), who is stuck in Barrow for the month only through a run of bad luck.

There is not much else to say, except that the fight for survival runs into more than a few problems. These vampires are determined, you see. The visual stylings of the town itself - shrouded in almost complete darkness, lightened only by the stark white snow - help set the mood, and the depiction of the vampires themselves is infinitely more interesting than most such incarnations.

One of the most fascinating choices director David Slade makes is to use an actual actor - rather than a glorified extra wearing heavy makeup - in the role of the vampires' leader, Marlow. Unlike characters like Dracula, the vampires in 30 Days of Night aren't the talky charmers we've come to know. They're predators, not seducers. They essentially take on the role of monsters, rather than characters - which means the filmmakers could have easily gotten away with casting no-names and having them growl and scream. Instead, they cast Danny Huston, one of the most accomplished character actors around (Children of Men, The Proposition, The Aviator). The move pays off - Marlow legitimately comes to life. Using mostly his face as a mode of expression, he creates a vampire menacing and dark and animalistic. The other vampire characters are all well and good, but Huston brings another dimension.

When it comes down to it, though, the film quickly falls into a hole, and only during certain individual scenes does it start to dig itself out. Between those, it relies on almost exclusively expository dialogue and an overall sense of monotony that robs the film of any suspense or fear that may have been intended.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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