Come Out Where Its Creepy: 30 Days of Night

30 days of night promo

American horror movies usually have no problem generating an audience. Even the most ridiculous, corny teenage date flick can garner high weekend box office returns, especially when there’s nothing really great playing otherwise, anyways. 30 days of night the recently lauded indie vampire thriller adapted from the graphic novel of the same title, is one of the rare bright spots of a market bloated with bland remakes, sequels, and just plain bad horror movies. The film is driven on fairly simple elements of drama, though appropriately  tweaked to maximize viewer tension. And it succeeds in forcing viewers from their comfort zones in all manners. In a small arena of limited resources, the villain is no longer staggering far behind his prey the way he did in older movies.

But, 30 days of night is that it isn’t a film operating on gotcha gimmicks and poorly written characters which might more often deflect the sympathies of its viewers–though it is not entirely devoid of these tactics, peppering (sparingly) the movie with elements like the token creepy child. And, probably influenced by the tactics of torture-themed horror films, delivers an abundance of painstakingly gruesome visual punches. The film is set in Borrow, the northernmost town of the United States, as the residents gloomily prepare for the 30 consecutive days the year when daylight completely disappears. The setting is relentlessly gritty: shades of gray, and later, the permanence of darkness and bitter cold, a metaphor for the imbalance of good and evil that has befallen the town.

Immediately, the characters are forced into dubious odds against their impending doom: vampires who excitedly infest the small town of easy, unsuspecting prey. The townspeople’s weaknesses are further compounded by the extreme elements and the dramatically superior strengths of the vampires who may or may not be susceptible to the traditional notions of bloodsucker defense like garlic and holy water. And, as the vampires are unleashed upon the town, their relentless destruction is presented in ways that mirror the more stark historic portrayals of genocide. The periodic echos of violent screams of the utter helplessness of their victims, the corpses strewn in pools of blood along the street, and the simple realization that the characters have few places to hide, mobilize, and sufficiently equip themselves against their predators.

30 days of night also presents the rare moral dilemmas and the psychological impacts of intense fear and prolonged isolation in ways that parallel John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing (scientists stationed in Antarctica are threatened by an alien parasite that replicates the physical identity of its host). And though these are natural outcomes where the victims (especially, collectively) exist in a frame of extremely limited capability, it rarely seems to become a significant impetus of similar movies in the genre because the gotchas and gore tends to trump all. Major of characters of the film–other than the posse of vampires–are the town sheriff (Josh Hartnett), his former girlfriend (or wife?) (Melissa George), and his deputy. Though their history remains undeveloped, subtle references hints upon the development of a love angle between Hartnett and George’s characters, forcing everything into a neat, happy resolution. Even under conditions such as these. Right? Maybe… The vignettes of secondary characters such as the sheriff’s teenage brother or the doddering old survivor add to the story’s moral challenges of personal sacrifice and self-defense.

It’s exceedingly optimistic or perhaps simply naive to hope that the successes of 30 days of night will have some (lasting, improving) effect on the styles of American horror filmmakers, especially when the coming attractions advertised four or five more painfully standard (and utterly forgettable) tales in sanitary-tinted scenes of effortlessly pretty girls being oh-so tormented by that grizzly-voiced predator lurking in the shadows.


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