30 Days of Night was originally developed and published as a comic book miniseries that was created by Stephen Niles and Ben Templesmith. The series was only three issues long, but told a harrowing tale of vampires laying siege to a small town. The adaptation into a film came later in 2007, Starring Josh Hartnett. How many vampire movies is too many vampire movies for me? Do the life sucking Cat Monsters from Sleepwalkers count as vampires? How does one define vampires?
Meh. I don't know. Let's watch Fargo vs. Dracula.
The story begins in Barrow, Alaska, a refinery town that is far north enough to endure a month of uninterrupted polar night every year. It is isolated, has no roads in or out beyond what a snowplow makes, and the closest thing they have to a cell phone tower is three welded-together bed-frames. So yeah, who wouldn't want to live here.
We get some impressive looking wide shots of a man in a very snug looking parka looking at a frozen over ship out in the tundra before hiking over to the town.
On the outskirts of Barrow, Sheriff Ebon Olsen (Yes, that's a name that someone gave to their child) is investigating the charred remains of a pile of satellite phones. It seems that someone has been busy. Ebon is worried by the theft and destruction, though arguably not nearly as much for someone who just lost his connection to the outside world. He says that it's no prank, considering that's there's no note. Ah yes, the absence of a prank note opens this case up to investigation. Like that time I toiletpapered a neighbors house after nailing my theses on why they were a dick to their door. Also, Ebon is asthmatic, though this will barely come up again in the story.
On the way back into town, Deputy Billy alters the signpost to reflect the reduced population of the town during the darkened month: 152. As the sun sets, Parka man goes to work, breaking into local kennels and killing sled dogs. I suppose he's just knocking them out of the game early so we don't have to see their horrid deaths later in the film. Meanwhile a federal Fire Marshall named Stella has just finished her inspection of the refinery and is eager to head back out of town to the airport for a few reasons, chiefly being that she doesn't feel like chatting up with Ebon, who is her estranged husband. A man driving a terrifying-looking chainsaw tractor accidentally runs her off of the road, causing her to miss her flight, so now she's stuck in town.
Ebon checks in the skeleton crew working at the refinery and we get introduced to a few more set pieces like Carter and Wilson, a foreman and helicopter pilot respectively, as well as a huge grinding machine called “The Muffin Monster”. And you just KNOW that somebody's going into that thing. Wilson is pissed off because somebody's trashed his chopper, and warning lights start to go off in Ebon's head.
Seriously, Ebon. That's his name. It's like he chose that himself during his goth phase and never got rid of it.
The sun has set, and a local meterologist on the edge of town is having issues with his internet connection, and heads out to thump on the router, where he is quickly surrounded and slashed up by a group of hissing strangers.
Back in town, Parka is causing trouble at the diner when they won't serve him raw hamburger and is enough of a nuisance to get arrested by Ebon with help from Stella, who also has a gun for some reason. Do most Alaskan fire marshals pack heat? Does she just have a sidearm for those particularly belligerent fires?
Meanwhile, a trio of workers are heading home and I'm pretty sure one of them is Sean William Scott. One of them gets yanked into the shadows, then thrown back a second later with a huge gash in his neck and gagging for breath. At least drink him, you wasteful jerk!
Back at the police station, The internet and phone lines start to fail, while Parka plays the pronoun game, talking about “them” and how “They” are coming. The power to the town goes out and Ebon heads to the weather station, which doubles as the town radio tower, leaving Stella with his grandmother and younger brother, Jake.
Ebon heads out and finds nothing of Meterologist Doug except for his severed head. In the meantime, things have started to pop off when a man's wife gets dragged out of the house by a shadowy baldy. He puts up a fight, but she is quickly abducted and eaten. Also, their house still had power. I suppose that it's not uncommon to have a generator up there.
Back at the Station, Parka manages to grab Jake the Wiener through the bars of his cell before getting winged by Ebon. Holy hell, that was an impressive shot. Ebon's impressive marksmanship is not explored further as he cuffs up Parka and demands to know what is going on. After getting nothing but another gibbering stream of crazy in response, Ebon heads back out with Starla to warn the residents that something big is coming. Hartnett plays the character well during the segment, becoming increasingly ragged and prone to fits of rage when faced with people or things that defy his strong moral convictions, like how close he comes to emptying a round of buckshot into Parka's head when he comes back to a bloodstained station, vacant save for a despondent Parka who weeps over the fact that they “Left him”. I seriously cannot see someone this unstable sneaking through town and pickpocketing everyone's cellphones.
Having survived an attack by someone who mounted their moving vehicle and shrugged off gunshots, Ebon knows that “they” are not something that he has ever seen before.
We finally get introduced to “Them”.
This assortment of pale, toothy socipaths are our vampires for the evening. While a little too monstrous for my own personal tastes, I do kind of like their visual design. These vampires are clearly sharks, with large black eyes slanted slightly downwards to give them a predatory look, grey skin and an entire mouth of sharp teeth. Their leader speaks to his clan in a language that tries to be composed of a combination of East-European dialects and animalistic snarls, but ends up sounding like Klingon. P'Tach.
He says that this is all just a great idea, taking advantage of a solid month of darkness to kill with impunity, and gives his followers a simple order: Insure that they separate the heads of all their victims to avoid propagation. Do not turn anyone. He then tells a guy that he is about to eat something similar: There is no escape, only hunger and pain.
The bloodbath begins, with a very cool overhead shot of the citizens of Barrow trying to ward off the enroaching vampires, dying as they are dragged fromt heir homes and fed upon or taken down while attempting to fight back. It's a well done shot and sells the hopelessness of confrontation.
Ebon and Starla make it to the diner and meet up with a clutch of survivors, including Jake, who escaped while they were eating his grandmother. They cook up a plan to head to a nearby house with a very well-hidden attic and Ebon acts as advance guard, scouting the place out and planning to grab some defensive supplies. He and Starla run into trouble when their car gets overturned by a swarm of bloodsuckers, but they are fortunately saved by the local snowplow driver. They escape and manage to get everyone into the attic, huddling down for the long haul. Meanwhile, Vampire King comes to the police station and thanks Parka for doing everything that he was told, insuring that the people of Barrow have no outside communication, helicopter or sled dogs. Parka nods, eager to accept his share in the bargain, but The Count just snaps his neck, musing on the gullibility of mortals.
Wait, you didn't want to recruit him? Why? He seems sociopathic enough to fit with your little coven, and you don't exactly seem like you're over stocked, you even lost a few guys during that snowplow incident. How long have you been using this guy? Did you just pick up a random lunatic? What are you going to do next time? Renfields don't grow on trees you know.
7 days later, tensions are starting to boil. Jake has started to openly use the V-word to describe the out of towners and the doctor is getting ready to leave alongside the senile father of Wilson the chopper pilot. Ebon shuts down potential mutiny, but admits that very soon, they will need to make a run for food. Their opportunity comes when they see a wounded woman wandering the streets, yelling for help. Ebon accurately defines it as bait and does not pursue the woman, letting her return to the vampires and get slashed up for her failure after Head Vamp mumbles a bit of nihilistic mumbo junbo at her through his big teeth. Ebon uses this advantage to make a break for the general store. While skulking between houses, he runs across John, the man who got his wife snatched from him earlier. He numbly explains that he can't remember how long he has been hiding and quickly turns out to be another vampire, having turned sometime during his fight. He is overcome by thirst and attacks Ebon, who is unwilling to use his gun because of the noise and ends up decapitating John with a fire axe, which he wisely hangs on to. He gets back to the house and is dragged back upstairs in the midst of an asthma attack while Head Vampire finds the decapitated corpse.
Wilson's dad decides enough is enough and storms out using his Old Man strength, eventually slipping out of a window with the old, “I have to use the bathroom” line. Wilson follows his father and both are quickly devoured while the baldy vamp pokes around the house he tracked them out of. Realizing that their current location is no longer secure, the gang moves under the cover of a white out to the general store, which is conveniently empty save for a lone vampiric little girl that eats one of them. You'd think that these vampires would stake out locations like this where potential stragglers are liable to hole up or at least take refuge in. I appreciate that the little girl vampire vampire is actually dealt with quite quickly, which is rare for movies featuring killer children or dolls: the entire group pins her to the wall and Jake decapitates her with a fire axe. Surrounded with provisions, they settle in again.
On Day 18, Ebon decides it's time to move again. For some reason. Maybe this place has too many windows or something. At this point I have to wonder what exactly all these vampires are doing for weeks on end. By my math, you have at most, 660 hours of absolute free reign over this town, provided that you don't sleep and give or take a few hours for the initial sunrise/sunset. That is more than enough time to kick in and scour each individual structure for potential survivors. And if you aren't duly concerned about that, then what exactly are you doing? I think this movie is missing scenes of vampires chilling out at the bar or blasting around in cars. There can't be THAT many people to eat. You could be trashing the place or otherwise just partying. My point is, this movie doesn't have enough vampire orgies. I mean, they must be doing SOMETHING when they aren't eating people. Oh, and let's run down the rules for these vamps while the survivors theorize on what they are:
This dude is great. He eventually tries to blow himself up to take as many of them out as he can, but in ad odd subversion, actually survives the attempted suicide bombing long enough to get his head squished by Head Vampire as he preaches more weird philosophy about humanities ability to destroy itself.
Once they get to relative safety, Carter decides not to be the dick that hides his infection and tells the group that he has been turning into a vampire since he was wounded during the fight with a little girl. It took him a full week to realize he was turning and tell everyone? I feel like this is something you could have brought up sooner. Carter has a pretty good monologue about not wanting to face the prospect of eternal life if it means never seeing his dead wife and child again, and Ebon takes him into the other room, humanely chopping his head off with a damn wood axe. The guy doesn't seem like a huge danger to the group, why not use him? I feel like having a vampire on your side would come in handy. Oh well.
On Day 27, the group notices a signal light from another house and Ebon goes to investigate alongside Starla. It turns out Deputy Billy is still alive and hiding at his house. A poke around reveals that he executed his wife and child, not wanting to submit them to the same grisly fate as the others. Ebon is again almost driven to homicidal rage at this, but spares Billy and decides to make another run for it. While waiting for an opening, they notice a little girl being used as the exact same kind of bait as before, only this time, Stella decides to fall for it, getting separated for her trouble while the vamps call out to each other.
At some point that I wasn't paying attention during, I suppose that the gang agreed to meet up at the refinery, which is still running at full power despite an entire February without a single person at the controls, unless someone was stupid enough to turn everything on when they got there. Ebon meets up with them and Billy trails after him, unwittingly leading the Baldy Vampire to the rest of the group. Wait, wasn't Sean William Scott in this movie for like, twenty seconds? What happened to him? That's a poor use of your Stiffler.
Meanwhile outside, The Head Vampire is smearing himself with blood and declaring the need for confidentiality.
“It took us centuries to convince them that we were just bad dreams” he says, and notes that even a single survivor will undo much of their work. Back at the refinery, Baldy jumps at the rest of the group, badly wounding Billy before finally acting as the pay off to what everyone's been waiting for and getting knocked into the grinder. Billy won't stop screaming from his severed hand and gradual change into a vampire, so Ebon finally just cuts his head off with a few solid swings of his trusty axe. As if you could hear that guy over all the machinery.
Stella finally radios in on a walkie talkie, revealing that she is stuck under a car in the middle of vamp central. Ebon tries to think of something until the streets start to fill with oil. The vampires have ruptured the pipeline and plan to burn down the entire town, masking the whole thing as a terrible accident. This will leave them free to move on to the next town next year, and so on. If Stella runs with the girl, she'll be killed in seconds, and if she stays put, she'll burn to death. Ebon decides that he needs to save them and declares that the vampires cannot be fought “The way we are now”.
The sheriff then proceeds to charge his brother with protecting the last two survivors and injects himself with Billy's blood, voluntarily turning himself into a vampire. He strolls out, fighting off the nausea and faces down with Head Vampire, mano a mano. It's showtime.
They tussle amidst the burning town, tossing each other around. I do have to ponder the swiftness of Ebon's change as Boss Vampire slaps him around. It seemed to take Carter and John at least a few days to turn, while Ebon at least has the evil eyes and vampiric strength mere minutes after getting his blood transfusion. Boss Vamp tries that dumb pouncing lunge that never works for any vampire ever, and Ebon agrees, punching out his brain with one hand. The other vamps just sort of wander off without their leader, I guess they were only in it for his cool speeches. Ebon admits that there is a downside to this plan as the sun comes up. Ebon has no plans to continue living as a bloodsucking monster and sits down to watch the sunrise with Stella as the daylight turns him into charcoal.
This movie had a very solid premise based off of the original graphic novel, though it's execution varied a bit. There is nothing directly wrong with the film. It is well made, the performances are solid and the set pieces are very thrilling. I'm a sucker for a good survival movie and winter horror is an odd sub genre that I can never get enough of, so this movie hit a lot of my buttons. The problem is that the plot is incredibly straightforward and frequently slows to a crawl, which is a product of being stretched over such a lengthy time span. Beyond the creative and gory fights, there isn't much to the plot beyond “Let's make a plan, the the plan works, let's hide somewhere else for a week”. I know that this film was actually trying to stick to the source material very closely, but the stakes of a film demand a bit of variance. A plan by the survivors could actually go tits up at one point and force them to think on the fly while things collapse around them. The ending fight is cool, but plays fast and loose with the vampire rules that this movie sets up. Oh, and Ebon was named that because originally, he was Inuit in the book. But then the studio hired Hartnett, changed his last name to Olsen and there you go: a protagonist with a ridiculous name. I can recommended this film for a fun watch, as there is plenty to enjoy, though it's nothing iconic.