"We should have come here ages ago," one vampire says to another in 30 Days of Night, and he has a point. Apparently, vamps have been too busy swooning around for Anne Rice to, you know, take a sec to really think about things: "Hey, so we've got that allergy to the sun, right? So maybe we should go somewhere where the sun isn't an issue? Maybe instead of hanging out in, oh, I don't know, fucking SUNNYDALE, we should go to Barrow, Alaska, where the townsfolk are delicious and the sun goes down for a month once a year, and we could have a big fucking party?!"
Good for the vampire who finally thought of this idea, and bad for the delectable residents of Barrow, who have their quaint lives rudely interrupted when—on the eve of their month of darkness—all their cell phones get stolen, their power goes out, and the guts get yanked from the town's helicopter. Cue sundown, and cue the vampire equivalent of a drunken spring break.
Based on a fairly overrated graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, the film version of 30 Days of Night is pretty goddamn cool. Most of this is due to director David Slade, whose pedophilic psychological thriller Hard Candy was one of 2005's most disturbing films. By loosely swiping the graphic novel's plot, Slade creates a gorgeously shot horror/survival flick that follows Eben (Josh Hartnett), Barrow's badass but overwhelmed sheriff, as he herds a small band of endangered survivors through their vampire-infested town, hoping to do nothing but stay alive for 30 days.
About those vampires: Screeching like banshee pterodactyls and gleefully tearing through flesh, these vamps are opportunistic, animalistic predators, slaughtering innocents and relishing the copious sprays of blood that splatter Barrow's once-pristine snow. Unrelenting, the malicious vampires are led by the ancient Marlow (Danny Huston, solid as usual), whose calm, cruel demeanor raises goosebumps as he leads his gothy pals through Barrow's body-strewn streets. (Also creepy is Ben Foster as a tweaked-out vamp groupie; through rotted teeth and frantic eyes, he ominously foretells Barrow's violent doom before Eben or anyone else can figure out what's going on.)
Slade's best with 30 Days of Night's earlier, quieter moments, when the threat of brutal death hangs over his unsuspecting characters' heads. (Though that's not to say Slade's incapable of handling the film's more graphic moments—yeah, the sadistic vampires inflict vicious gore upon Barrow's defenseless townsfolk, but as the situation grows increasingly dire, even our heroes end up causing a fair amount of viscerally affecting bloodshed.) Working with dark, painterly, and starkly beautiful landscapes, Slade's a master of understatement, and when 30 Days lets him maintain a constant level of intense but subtle dread, it's at its best.
Unfortunately, as things progress, they get uneven: There are a few horror clichés, and the ending feels goofy and forced. But overall, these elements can't detract from the film's strong core—it's a tense, scary story of a few survivors in a no-win situation with foes who are nothing less than terrifying. But I'm just saying those foes might've been scarier if they'd had the smarts to think of going to Alaska earlier. Way to stay on top of things, Count Chocula.