30 Days of Night (2007)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 31, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Icon (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English DD 2.0. English (FHI) Subtitles. 108 minutes
The Movie
Director: David Slade
Starring: Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Jr.
Screenplay: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson
Country: USA
External Links
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Barrow, Alaska is the Northernmost town in the US, and every winter it experiences a phenomena that many places near the Arctic circle do – thirty days of complete night. Sounds like fun, if you're a sun-dodging type like myself? In theory, yes, but factor in snow, the wind-chill factor, those sub-zero temperatures and the arrival in town of some vampires, and everything takes on a whole new perspective.

Eben (Josh Hartnett) is the local sheriff, a nice enough asthmatic Everyman kind of character who's having trouble with his Fire-Marshall wife Stella (Melissa George, who rapidly seems to be moving from her Home and Away roots into being a Hollywood scream-queen) and is facing some increasingly bizarre crimes, beginning with the destruction of nearly all the town's mobile phones (makes sense when the story gets going), and escalating to violence of a rather nasty kind against dogs.

Stella's trying to get outta town before the long dark sets in, but is hampered by all kinds of setbacks. She doesn't make it, and is forced to head back to town – the rest of the townsfolk believing that she and Eben need to make a go of things and stick together, just like Bryan Ferry told us to.

Eben's faced with a new crime, the third on the same day, which is a lot for such a small town, that of vandalism against the local helicopter, but hasn't put it together yet that all modes of communication with the outside world are being cut off. You'd think that once the internet was cut off, he'd twig, but nup, he hasn't pieced it together yet that something hostile is actively working against the town of Barrow, and wants to keep it even more isolated than it already is.

A random (or not so) nutcase comes to town, and being refused service at the local diner (Barrow is a dry town, and aside from not serving liquor, they're not too keen on serving up bowls of raw hamburger) he gets a little rambunctious, so Eben decides to stick him in the pokey for the night. The nutcase makes a few indiscriminate threats, and then the blackout begins, and our vampires, who've made a few pre-emptive strikes before, come out in force to do some badness. Let me state at this point that these vampires are most definitely not of the aristocratic Christopher Lee-mould, this is closer to Near Dark, if anything, but much, much worse. The carnage is incredible, given this was a Hollywood big-budgeter – the blood and the gore top notch, and there's plenty of it. The aerial shot of the vampire onslaught is a thing of beauty – top-shelf direction.

Eben finds the last survivors of the attack, and they hole up in an attic – the best stronghold they can find. It's not exactly your dream team of survivors, but it's the best he can get together. And then, Night of the Living Dead style, it's a lock-down siege mentality for the next thirty days. And the same tensions start being raised – do we stay or do we go? Neither suggestion seems like the key to a long life.

I love a good vampire film, and this is one of the best. Well, at least in the last 30 years, anyway. There's a lot in common with Near Dark and John Carpenter's Vampires, the nomadic vampires, the lack of romanticising the myth, the generally unsympathetic characters, the icy bleakness – that's a good thing. I must say, I went into this film with zero expectation, so to enjoy it as much as I did was a complete surprise, and a very pleasant one at that. I'm not normally one for Hollywood horror, so bear that in mind when considering this review – this practically leapt off the screen at me. Sure the core of the film is a love story, but it's kept well in the background – this is a horror movie, and it never forgets that; the love story is a plot device, not a driving force.

The special effects are pretty damn good in this film – the carnage is brutal – and at no point does this film, despite its source material, descend into being a comic book romp. There are no knowing winks at the camera, the plot is utterly devoid of humour, the performances, with the exception of the vampires who are a little over-the-top, are minimalistic to the point of hardly being present (as much as it pains me to say it, Hartnett is especially good), in terms of tone, it's not a million miles away from Carpenter's The Thing, and that's not just a lazy reference due to a snowy surrounding – this film, while it lacks the greatness of Carpenter's, has a similar claustrophobia and sense of inevitable doom. Put aside any bias you might have to big-budget films and have a watch. I think you'll be impressed.
The quality of the 1.78:1 transfer is great - it's anamorphically enhanced and looks the business, capturing the film's cold, desolate and nasty aesthetic almost perfectly.

Unfortunately there is one niggle - the aspect ratio is incorrect here, as 30 Days of Night was originally projected at 2.35:1 in cinemas, and this wider ratio was used for virtually every international DVD release as well as the Australian Blu-ray disc. It should be noted though that the image has not been cropped here - in fact, the 1.78:1 presentaion opens the frame a little, revealing more information than the 2.35:1 presentation, however this was probably not the way the director wanted us to see the movie.
Top notch - the weird industrial/dark ambient score is eerie as all hell, and the DTS 5.1 soundtrack really makes the whole thing come alive. You'd think you were in Barrow, with the howling wind, the flurries of snow and the vampires shrieking.
Extra Features
Disc One: a full length commentary with the cast and crew. These things, when unmoderated, can be about as exciting as sticking your head into a bucket of mud. Anecdotal and dull, with little insight.

Disc Two: A series of featurettes (do NOT watch them before the feature – spoilers abound) which can be played as one long doco, with the following titles – Pre-production (I had no idea before watching this, that this film was shot in New Zealand, plus you get some interview footage with Rob Tapert of The Evil Dead fame – but where was Sam Raimi? Both were producers of the film), The Vampire (which shows us the movement classes and the development of the look of the vampires – interesting, and makes me glad I'm not an actor; I'd feel more than vaguely foolish out of costume acting like one of these vampires), Building Barrow (most of what you see was fabricated for the movie, much of it was shot on a sound stage), The Cast (there's a fair bit of circle-jerking amongst the actors in this bit), The Look (the director of photography doco, basically – I was expecting production design), Blood, Guts and Nasty #@$&! (one for the tech-geeks and gore-hounds), Night Shoots (must have been a bit tiring, and obviously would ruin any chance for a normal life – "Production estimates that over 20,000 cups of coffee were drunk over the course of production" – that's a lot of tired and easily irritated people), and Stunts (this kind of thing always bums me out, like the special effects reels – I don't like to see how the magic is made).

Further to that, this version also comes with a graphic novel, or at least a series of excerpts from the first three Steve Niles written and Ben Templesmith-drawn 30 Days of Night trade paperbacks, 30 Days of Night, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, and 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow. The artwork is pretty impressive, and I'm not just saying that because Templesmith is Australian – to me this is second only to Dave McKean in the world of comic art. You will want to go and buy them.

An admirably comprehensive package all round.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
30 Days of Night successfully re-invents the vampire myth for the new millennium. You can take your romanticised existential Anne Rice ponces a la Interview With The Vampire and shove them up your arse. This is the vampire as a brute – a remorseless killing machine, sadistic and cruel and loving every second of it. This comes to you highly recommended, a top notch contemporary horror film, cold, bleak and mean, without any comedy to pull its punches. Just when we'd written off US horror as being the industry of the re-make (I'm looking at you, Platinum Dunes), something fresh and vital bounces out of the box to show us the old dog still has teeth, much like the vampire film itself.

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