30 Days of Night (dir. David Slade, 2007) – A tribe of bloodthirsty creatures attacks an Alaskan town during its month of darkness.
This post is part of Preamble to Halloween, an October marathon of horror features before the dawn of All Hallows’ Eve.
Barrow seats at the northern tip of Alaska, earning renown for being quite literally the top of the world. Because of its very location, the town experiences a polar night every year, plunging into 2 whole months of cold darkness. 30 Days of Night halves that number for a title with a nice ring to it. The shortened duration doesn’t lessen the terror of homicidal vampires having the upper hand over a mere 4000-strong population.
Gruesome fates soon befall the unsuspecting good folk of Barrow. Blood spills from torn throats and cracked skulls, but it isn’t just visceral violence that evokes fear. The absence of daylight in the middle of the wintry storm makes the air all the more suffocating. A new-to-town Stranger (Ben Foster) helps things along by cutting off all communications to the outside world, leaving no clear path to escape.
The claustrophobic atmosphere is relentless. All things spell desolation, if not for the sheriffs in town. Estranged cop couple Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) remain as composed as one could be, locking the Stranger up before leading the locals to safety. Their level-headed plans bring a glimpse of hope. But hope feels barely enough in a world made darker still by Brian Reitzell’s intense score of ominous strings.
Carnage continues. The tribe bares their fangs and lurks in the open, while the survivors stay trapped behind closed doors.It is an intense hunting game as they bait their prey in a perturbing display of marked superiority. Narrowing their darkened eyes, the vampires shriek into the starless skies, their unnatural looks adding onto the disquiet.
One can almost believe it when the Stranger whispers his warning behind bars, “You can feel it. That cold ain’t the weather. That’s death approaching.”
His foreboding words are unnerving. But there is more to his threat than malice. Ben Foster’s performance makes the Stranger a sympathetic character, despite his anonymity and the cruelty of his actions. Speaking of his longing for his promised place to the vampiric line, he reveals loneliness mirrored in his eyes, so unbearable he would give up life in exchange for acceptance.
It is also in the Stranger’s predicament that we see how the vampires differ from that of the recent lore. These creatures are not at all characterised by romance or sensuality. They are driven instead by bloodlust, no matter who they once were. Disdain also fuels them, especially their leader Marlow (Danny Huston), who openly derides the vulnerability of human nature.
“The things they believe,” he spits with sharp teeth and sharper arrogance, mocking the Stranger’s faith in their species.
Marlow’s pure embodiment of hate is chilling. It is especially disturbing when seen in his humanoid form that tells us that he might have been once human too. However, his transformation has erased his past, much of his empathy along with it, leaving him with little more than a primitive need to feed.
Next to his heart of darkness, his victims remind us of how Man stands apart from beast. We see it in how Eben protects Stella despite their marriage on the rocks. Empathy motivates the actions of the town’s locals, who see their fates intertwined with that of their loved ones. Some are willing to give up their own lives just so others could survive. Their choices out of love are what makes them human.
Centring on the stories of its grounded characters, 30 Days of Night appeals to bloodthirsty gorehounds as much as it does, the ones seeking a more introspective take on the vampire legend. Beyond neatly choreographed kills, the film looks into what humanity means – by contrast to the raging monsters who have lost theirs. Like its backdrop of the harsh winter cold, the film is brutal, heavy, and beautiful all at once.
An Epilogue to October…
And that concludes one spooky month of horror reviews. Hope you have enjoyed my tiny excuse to indulge in my favourite genre these past weeks. Unfortunately, the posts has been few due to work exigencies, but it’s certainly not the last of ghouls and ghosts you will see here. Happy Halloween, friends!