Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night did a lot to revitalize horror comics, largely thanks to a great and simple premise – a tiny town in the farthest reaches of Alaska is besieged by vampires through the length of a single month-long night. As anyone who remembers my review of odd Swedish chiller Frostbiten a few months back will know, I’ve been looking forward to this film adaptation for quite a while. So if you detect a note of crushing disappointment in the rest of the review then you know why.
It’s not that it’s awful, just than it never gets far beyond okay. Take the acting for example – Josh Hartnett does a good job of keeping things together with another one of those gruff heroes that are becoming his stock in trade, but almost no one else holds the attention, to the extent that it’s occasionally hard to remember who’s who or just how many survivors are left. Melissa George, stuck in the overwhelmingly unnecessary role of love interest, makes little impression. Only Mark Boone Jr really stands out, with some hearty scenery-chewing as the local survivalist redneck type. When someone points out that vampires don’t fall over when shot, he boasts, “Hell, neither do I,” and manages to sound convincing rather than stupid.
After this and Hard Candy, David Slade is looking increasingly like a director of pretty but empty films. At least Hard Candy made an impact, albeit a sleazy one, and at least it was involving. 30 Days of Night manages often to be dull, even when things are going on that should theoretically be exciting. Part of the problem is Slade, who can’t provide the new take on old ideas that’s needed (and that the comic itself managed); another part is a plot structure that doesn’t work well on film. There are too many questions left unanswered, and the survivors’ staying alive seems both inexplicable and arbitrary.
Added to that is the issue of just how dumb these vampires are – in fact, their blinding stupidity is the scariest thing about them. Although they look great, with weirdly distorted, blood drenched faces, the moment they open their mouths to make bodysnatchers-style shrieks or to talk bollocks in a daft-sounding made up language, it becomes very hard to be afraid. Add to that the aforementioned stupidity, whereby they’re constantly outwitted by humans who barely have the sense to turn the lights off, consider locked doors an adequate defense, and could be easily rooted out with a quick door to door search – well, frankly, it’s no wonder they’ve been keeping their heads down for the last few centuries.
In fairness, 30 Days is on a par with most modern horror, and – in terms of cinematography, effects, and acting – better than most. It’s a decent B-movie, just original enough to justify its existence and with sound production values, but it could have and should have been so much more. Almost entirely absent is the eerie unreality of Ben Templesmith’s artwork, gone too (despite his hand in the script) is the freshness that made Steve Niles’ writing stand out. It’s always watchable, often likeable and occasionally outstanding. The only really gaping flaw is the editing, which is inexplicably terrible. For most of the running time it seems to have been badly cut for violence, but there’s an outrageously gory bit towards the end, which suggests that maybe it was just lousy editing after all. Taking that into account, it may be that a more satisfying cut with surface on DVD. In the meantime, if you want to see a decent horror movie you could certainly do worse, but for what might have been the year’s best comic adaptation, that still makes it a heck of disappointment.