It's official. The bar for vampire films has officially been raised. David Slade's 30 Days of Night is a savage bloodletting of a film that rips out the throat and feeds on the lifeblood of the genre itself. It's a brutal horror flick that serves up exactly what it sets out to, with a particularly juicy and rare presentation.
The story is simple: It's almost sunset in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Each year, the town endures one night that lasts a solid 30 days. Most of the residents make their way to warmer climes, and those who stay batten down the hatches and wait for the morning light. But this time, things are different, because there's a creepy-ass stranger in town (the creepy-ass Ben Foster, who has already creeped out audiences this year in Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma), who has systematically murdered sled dogs, destroyed cell-phone towers and essentially cut off the town's inhabitants from the outside world. When Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) throws him in jail, the stranger says he'd better watch out, because his friends will be along soon.
He's half right. Yes, they're coming, but no, they aren't his friends. While he is a mere mortal, his compadres are a freaky group of ancient vampires, drawn to Alaska by the absence of sunlight and an insatiable hunger for human blood. These aren't the glamorous vamps of the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt variety--they have evolved into a different species altogether. They are well-dressed but have an uneven sense of personal hygiene--they show no interest in cleaning the blood from around their mouths, giving them a terrifying look of bright scarlet against long-dead, pasty white skin.
To them, humans are nothing more than prey. They occasionally toy with their food in the way a cat might with a mouse, batting it around before the kill. Many of them seem to be without language, communicating primarily through almost feral-like screams. And when they roll into Barrow, it ain't pretty. These are merciless creatures that rampage through the population, leaving chaos and bloody snow in their wake, an almost unstoppable force whose victims have but one option--hide and hope that the sun comes up before the vampires find them.
The violence in 30 Days of Night is savage and unrelenting, but it is also well-shot, managing to be both tense and exciting. Basically, you've never seen a vampire feed quite like this before. It's harsh and nasty, the sort of deep soul kiss you don't want to be on the other end of.
Director Slade's previous movie, the Internet-stalker film Hard Candy, was a study in creepiness on a much smaller scale. 30 Days of Night retains the ick-factor, and the director, who is clearly talented, is getting a much bigger bang for his bigger budget. Hartnett hasn't had a good film in some time, but he is well-suited to the role of the town's protector, and his relationship with his estranged wife (Melissa George), who missed the last flight out, gives the film an emotional anchor. There is the occasional cliché, but it is a vampire movie after all. And unlike the current crop of serial-killer thrillers that pass for horror films, 30 Days of Night is truly horrifying.