As the winter sun sets over the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, the residents prepare for 30 days of total darkness. But sunset heralds the arrival of a pack of hungry vampires, who have a whole month to kill.
If you’re used to the vainglorious drama queens that swan around Anne Rice novels, there’s little that will be instantly familiar about the bloodsuckers in David Slade’s riff on the vampire myth. Mouths bristle with pointed teeth, fingers hook into cruel talons and dark, almond-shaped eyes slant aberrantly on faces more alien than human. These are no seductive, porcelain-skinned immortals, but savage, feral creatures that descend upon on a secluded town to rend its inhabitants limb from bloody limb.
Adapted from Steve Niles’ acclaimed graphic novel, 30 Days Of Night boasts something that has long been absent from modern fiction: genuinely frightening vampires. Decades of camp counts nipping at the necks of buxom virgins have long inured people to Dracula and his ilk. But Slade has returned the vampire to its rightful place as lord of Things That Go Bump In The Night.
Fast, brutal and utterly unstoppable, these blanched attackers (led by a deeply unsettling Danny Huston) move with unnatural, insect-like motions, the few words they utter articulated in their own guttural tongue. On screen the effect is nothing short of revelatory, capturing the atavistic horror of ancient folklore and imbuing it with a sense of menace last seen in Murnau’s Nosferatu.
After the initial slaughter, the film settles into a taut game of hide and seek, as Josh Harnett’s sheriff and a band of mismatched survivors do their utmost to remain out of sight and off the menu. Slade resists the temptation of jump shocks, opting instead for a constricting sense of dread that simmers in the background, occasionally peaking with bone-chilling results. One particularly harrowing scene sees a freezing young woman forced to walk through the streets crying for help, the survivors torn between the desire to help her and fear of revealing their hiding place.
The palette is one of midnight black, snow white and deep, arterial red, the latter of which is splashed about with gleeful abandon. Slade made his mark in Hard Candy with its images of DIY castration, and he follows that gruesome spectacle admirably here with graphic decapitations and a messy encounter between a vampire and something resembling a twelve-foot chainsaw on a tractor. And although Harnett and Melissa George’s Stella, his estranged wife, are the sole recipients of anything approaching a back story, the lack of depth never becomes a liability amid the tension.
The only really jarring point is the film’s chronology. The timeline skips forward days at a time with little indication that things have moved on in the interim. The film could just as easily have occupied a single night, although that would negate the undeniably smart premise so that, when dawn finally approaches, the sense of exhausted relief is all the more powerful for the implied wait.
With 30 Days Of Night, Slade has laid the groundwork for a true vampire renaissance. His is a new breed of vampire, one that cares nothing for crosses or garlic and will drag you screaming from your house whether you invite them in or not.
This slick and sticky horror is the most accomplished treatment of vampire lore since Near Dark.