Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 Days of Night (2007)

I wasn't going to write this One up until I read Owen Gleiberman's revieW in the October 26 issuE of Entertainment Weekly. GleibermaN gives 30 Days OF Night a D rating and refers to It as a "soporific splatterfest" without realizing the oxmoronic quality of his phrasing. His scathing treatiSe continues as he sarastically derides the picture's basic premise As a "fright film that takes place entirely at night (what a revolutionary new concept!)" In this instance, his attack works, but ONLY if the film took place over the course of one regular night. It's right in the fucking title Mr. Gleiberman. 30 DAYS. A month of night. I'm pretty sure THAT's never been Done before. I guess Pitch Black cOmes pretty close to conveying an extended nightime, but I'm also pretty sUre Vin Diesel and Company were only on that rock for a day or two. Gleiberman calls Danny Huston's character, Marlow, a "tall, brooding, and rather natty scowler who bears a disquieting resemblance to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys". This isn't really true, but Gleiberman gets away with his "witty" little line because very few people even know what Neil Tennat looks like. The line that, for me, proved Gleiberman was having a bad day, when He wrote the review, was when he talks about Hartnett's character, Sheriff Eben Oleson. He actually says very little about Hartnett other than "he looks (like he's) about to cry", as if a malE character, the supposed tough guy, showing vulnerability is a contributing factor to a flawed picture. It's actually kind of refreshing. Look, Hartnett is far from a great actor, but he was more than proficient in this one. Did Gleiberman expect him to be like Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal? I might be wrong, but I think if you put any bad ass motherfucker in Oleson's situation there's an excellent chance he'd break down and cry like a little girl. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions and Mr. Gleiberman is certainly entitled to his. Unfortunately, far too many critics these days appear to choose an angle before seeing a picture, and then run with it. This movie is really critic proof, however, but it should still be reviewed on its own merits. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun Times, wrote a perfectly fine, humorous review where he gave it two and a half stars (out of four) because it is "well made, well photographed, and plausibly acted and is better than it needs to be." Ebert, probably my favorite critic after the incomporable Vern, understands it's a genre film and reviewed it as such. I'm not sure Gleiberman understood that.

Of course none of that matters. What really matters is, what did I think? It's probably the best vampire picture since Blade 2. That's a pretty big fucking compliment actually because Blade 2 is pretty much a masterpiece and the ONLY film from that series I can watch more than once. David Slade (Hard Candy) did a more than competent job behind the camera, but the thing that really blew me away was the atmosphere, the sense of isolation and impending doom. Obviously, the first movie that might spring to mind is The Thing because of the arctic setting. It's the day of the first night before the annual month long darkness in the town of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Barrow is cut off from civilization by over 300 miles of wilderness and the only way in or out of town is the airport. So, when a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster), with receding gums and gristly stained teeth, wanders into town and demands some raw hamburger at the local diner one might think there would be some more questions asked. The stranger eventually ends up in a jail cell watched over by Sheriff Oleson (Josh Harnett) and forecasts a long fucking night ahead of everyone. It's not until all the cell phones are burned (I'm not sure how THEY managed to steal them all), the sleigh dogs are slaughtered, and the power is cut off that Oleson and friends start to think that maybe, just maybe, he might be right.

Exactly WHAT is coming, is not shown for a little while. Sure, we see silhouetes in the distance and hear sudden whooshes during an attack. These vampires are lightning quick and work their magic by grabbing a victim and pulling him or her into the darkness. Later, we learn that they are actually a society of vamps who have come thousands of miles to feed on Barrow, a town cloaked in 30 days of darkness. I guess I did have a question though. I mean, it's a great idea in theory, but Barrow can't have more than a population of 100 (especially after several of the townsfolk head south), ok, I think the sign indicated there were 121. Well, at least 75% are killed the first night. So, that's 29 more days of night to go with no more than 25 people left to feed on and the problem now become an issue of finding these people who, led by Hartnett and his pretty ex-wife Stella (Melissa George) have found a pretty decent hiding place in a hidden attic. I don't know, if Barrow had like a thousand people it would probably be a sound idea. The first night was like an all you can eat buffet at Old Country. The next 29 were more akin to dinner at one of those fancy french bistros i've heard about where snooty waiters dish out portions fit for a cabbage patch kid. Certainly wouldn't be my first choice. And, on top of the food supply running out, did I mention that this picture takes place in the northernmost town in the country? It's fucking cold. I guess that might not bother you too much if you're one of the undead and your blood's already cold. As Ben Foster's stranger tells us, "that ain't the cold coming, that's death."

Still, that minor plot hole aside, this is a pretty kick ass movie with some stunning photography. There were some snow squall images which were simply beautiful. The town of Barrow itself was a pretty amazing set, and we are even treated to a fantastic image of the first nightime massacre from above the town, as the camera slowly pans down mainstreet, as if mounted to a helicopter. I'll allow that this shot was most likely CGI, but it certainly didn't point itself out as such. The acting across the board was impressive, at least for this type of picture. No, no one's going to win an oscar, but they were all clearly comfortable and having fun in their roles. Special notice goes to Danny Huston (Children of Men) as the vampire leader Marlow, an actor who has played one of the most iconic villains of the last ten years in the unfortunately underseen film, The Proposition. Huston seems to relish the role and it's encouraging to see such a fine actor "slum" it every once in a while. The vampires speak in a strange gutteral language that sounds like a bunch of "click click derks", but adds to the overall creepiness. They do a lot of screeching and walk around with blood beards as they're clearly not into washing up after dinner. I think I saw Marilyn Manson as one of the vampires, but I'm not sure. Also effective, was Ben Foster, who I'm glad to see doesn't think too highly of himself to take what others might consider a throw away role and really turn it into something worth talking about. He kind of reminds me of a young Sean Penn, although, in this one, he looked like a very old, homeless Sean Penn.

The film is full of gory images and I loved how nothing came easy. By that, I mean, it usually took 3 or 4 good whacks with an axe before a head finally came off. Speaking of The Thing, there is one decapitation scene that reminded me of Rob Bottin's excellent work in that, where the head, after several good swings, was sort of hanging on by a few threads, probably the most disgusting scene. Watching this movie with an audience was pretty disturbing at times. I didn't really need to hear the rousing applause for the child decapitation scene, that was pretty much a firm crossing of the line. You guys are sick fucks.

This really is a terrific GENRE film. It's a perfect halloween movie. From what I've heard the ending here isn't quite as bleak as the ending of the graphic novel. Well, I wouldn't say we're actually treated to a happy ending, pretty much everyone that stayed behind in the town dies, including the aforementioned child. The film really accomplishes everything it set out to. I don't think I've seen vampires in the arctic before, so that was something new. It's an idea for a picture I wish I had thought of. The film has terrific atmosphere, plenty of the spraying red stuff, a few moments of humor, and a roving band of zombie-esque vampires. Between this and I Am Legend in December, I might be vampired out come January. But, I wouldn't count on it. Still, I both lament and rue the fact that Slade didn't find it necessary to show us Stella's, what must be freezing rock hard, nipples. Spoiler alert! She made it till dawn, so maybe in the sequel. End spoiler.


Gianni said...

I do need to see this movie, not sure when that's gonna happen, though. Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

You should call out critics before every review. Then challenge them to a boxing match. Good flick and a good review.

ps. Owen is a douche.

Gianni said...

Saw the movie today. It's a good movie, America! Watch it!

Elmo said...

I loved it. My only stylistic issue was the actual neck biting. I'd think you can only shred someone so badly before your wasting their blood. We never see these guys drinking and enjoying a kill, only savagely ripping necks open... continuously.

brian said...

Yeah, these certainly were'nt the refined vampires we've become used to.