“Vampire kids are dorks,” a friend warned me before the screening of 30 Days of Night, the latest requisite pre-Halloween horror flick. “They get picked on in high school, and when they grow up they make lame movies about being bad and undead and taking it out on normal jocks like Josh Hartnett. They get to be the cool kids.”
The vampire-movie-as-wish-fulfillment hypothesis is a compelling theory. Vampire kids think slicked-back hair, Eastern European accents and big-fanged chicks in tattered prom dresses are cool.
Still, every now and then a truly decent movie comes along that makes a heretofore-cheesy genre socially acceptable for the rest of us. I was hoping 30 Days of Night, with its frenetic trailer and graphic-novel pedigree, would do for vampire movies what the 2004 pitch-perfect Dawn of the Dead remake and the psychologically astute 28 Days Later series did for zombie flicks. I was ready for a revival, dammit.
But no such luck. Sometimes a Josh Hartnett vampire movie adapted from a comic book is just what you’d expect it to be – a disaster.
The premise looks good on paper: A small town in northern Alaska plunges into darkness for 30 days every winter, allowing a roaming band of vampires to descend for the undead circuit’s biggest all-you-can-eat buffet.
Alaska itself, with its otherworldly sense of isolation and hand-of-God extreme weather, has more than enough mood-setting potential to carry a so-so film. (And Hollywood is beginning to notice: in the past month, both Into the Wild and The Last Winter have prominently featured the state’s natural beauty.) But 30 Days of Night is not a so-so movie; it is a gratuitously bad one. It uses its setting in the most mundane, least frightening of ways, with fake-looking snowstorms and multiple scenes of vampires getting gutted by snow plows.
Any sense of fear director David Slade attempts to create is completely snuffed out by the script’s implausibility. At a life-draining 108 minutes long, the movie jumps from day five to day seventeen of the survivors’ ordeal with no explanation of how they attained food, water or heat in subzero temperatures. The only realistic emotion the pent-up cast (featuring Hartnett as the town sheriff and Melissa George as his estranged wife) manages to convey is boredom.
But the real offenders here are the vampires. The first half of the movie, seen from the humans’ perspective, is merely a tedious third-rate thriller. But when we finally get a scene from the vampires’ point of view, things really get bizarrely awful. Led by a pudgy, pasty Mafioso (Danny Huston) with a penchant for spouting fortune-cookie clich’eacute;s — “they fear what they don’t understand” — in a nonsensical vampire language, these are cartoonish bloodsuckers only a vampire kid could love.