Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 Days of Night (2007)

This one kind of feels like a missed opportunity, due to a certain basic lack of filmmaking competency, and it's kind of shocking to realize that Sam Raimi's Ghost House Productions has now released five horror movies and they've almost all sucked.

Quick plot synopsis: a band of vampires descends upon the town of Barrow, Alaska, which is above the Arctic Circle and thus dark for 30 days in the middle of Winter. For some unexplained reason, nobody in the rest of the world seems to think it's strange that they suddenly lose contact with an entire town of people for a month, which means Sheriff Josh Hartnett and estranged wife Melissa George have to fight them off.

The biggest problem with this movie is simple narrative disjointedness. The story stops and starts, nothing flows together, we don't really get to know any of the characters beyond the headlining three or four. It feels like there may have been a longer cut with more character beats (like showing how the residents of Barrow spend their time in-between story beats, eating canned food and being cold and miserable in hiding) but these were cut to the bone to make the movie shorter. Bad idea because the story becomes uninvolving and tedious as a result.

The second biggest problem with the movie is casting: Josh Hartnett is stiff and unconvincing as always, and only Danny Huston (who's great) really seems suited for his role, as the feral leader of the pack of vampires (correction: Mark Boone Junior is pretty good too). Ben Foster officially crosses the line, for me, from 'interesting' to 'annoying' with his performance in this movie.

The final major problem is basic directing: wayyy too much of this movie is shot in close-up, a standard problem for inexperienced directors. I also don't care for the overabundance of digital mattes and fake snow, especially after seeing the real thing not long ago in The Last Winter - standard Hollywood insistence on comfort over detailed realism. Lastly, the movie's ending is a ripoff of the similar, perfectly realized end of Guillermo Del Toro's Blade II.

On the other hand, I do like the make-up and performances of the vampire characters, rendered as vicious and wolf-like (although the one vampire with fake blood on his mouth for most of the movie would surely have wiped his face at some point during the month). Also, the action/gore beats are pretty good, including some pretty vicious vampire killings including (SPOILER!) one nasty little vampire kid whose death will almost certainly be extended in the inevitable director's cut. And I do have a softness for horror movies set in snow, no doubt about it.


frankbooth said...

The blatantly fake winter setting was the first thing I noticed when I saw the TV spot. Maybe you have to have lived in the real thing to be annoyed by this.

I had an idea called Ice Ghosts, about frozen zombies coming up out of ice-fishing holes to terrorize a small Northern town. Kind Romero-meets-Fargo thing. Well, there's another one I don't have to bother writing.

Cold/scary. The Thing, The Shining, Black Christmas. How about The Brood? Hard to imagine that one taking place in summertime.

Can you think of any others? Fred Claus is supposed to be pretty horrifying.

cjKennedy said...

I was quietly rooting for this one because I liked the premise.

I guess I'll be skipping it. See, this is why I don't see a lot of horror, my track record with it is so horrible.

Two notes that are only related because of genre considerations: What'd you think of The Descent? and what'd you think of Bug?

Jeff McMahon said...

Can I steal Ice Ghosts for myself? Still sounds like a good idea for me. My friend Brendan McLoughlin is a font of these 'Snakes on a Plane' kinds of concepts: werewolves on a cruise ship, Frankenstein on a bus, you name it.

CJ: I really liked The Descent, I was planning on watching and reviewing it sometime in the next two weeks. Short version, it's really well-shot and only lacking in the characterization department.

Bug, on the other hand, I was so-so on. I'm a fan of the 'person in a small room going nuts' subgenre of movies, including The Tenant and Taxi Driver and so on, and one of my first USC short films climaxed with the young protagonist deciding it would be a good idea to wrap aluminum foil around his head to keep Them from reading his thoughts. But Bug didn't feel like it was all that fresh or original to me.

frankbooth said...

"Can I steal Ice Ghosts for myself? Still sounds like a good idea for me."

Sure, I'll probably never get around to it. Just give me a story credit. It's not exactly identical to 30DoN, but enough of the imagery is similar that it would be perceived as a ripoff.

If you're actually serious, send me an email and I'll dig up my notes. Oh, and I would like to see your movie, one of these days. I thought Greencine was bad with the throttling, but Jefflix is giving them a run for their money.

Jeff McMahon said...

Do you mean you never received the second copy I sent in the mail?

Son of a bitch.

frankbooth said...


Hey, what kind of person is up at this hour?

Jeff McMahon said...

Well that's annoying; and someone who doesn't have to show up at work until 6pm tomorrow.

I'll send another copy, but there is apparently a DVD-eating monster somewhere between LA and San Francisco.

frankbooth said...

Either that or I'm some kind of sadist who thinks it's funny to make you waste postage, which would be a very lame form of evil indeed.

(I'll email you my address again, just to be safe.)

You must have thought my silence meant I hated it, assuming you gave it that much thought. By that logic, you could call this good news!

cjKennedy said...

I liked The Descent as well, though I slightly preferred the longer version. I'll save further comment until you post a review.

Bug started off really strong for me, but it went a little too far off the rails in the end. I still think it was better than the reaction it got.

frankbooth said...

Kim Morgan loved Bug, but she's, you know...quirky.

cjKennedy said...

Perhaps I should commence stalking her. Sounds like my kinda woman.

Jeff McMahon said...

She also wrote a pretty ecstatic review of Death Proof.

Jeff McMahon said...

If Guillermo Del Toro's version of At the Mountains of Madness gets made, it will hopefully be the Arctic horror movie to end all Arctic horror movies (or in this case, Antarctic).

Hopefully Don Murphy doesn't muck it up.

frankbooth said...

As long as he stays out of the way, it should be fine. Apparently, Michael Bay didn't put up with any creative interference from him, if that isn't an oxymoron.

Isn't GdT doing Hellboy 2 first? I enjoy his trifles, but they kind of tide me over as I'm waiting for the really good stuff.

(And what ever happened with all that chest-beating nonsense when Murphy wanted to meet you? I always imagined he'd bellow "Get in mah belly!" as soon as he caught sight of you.)