It's not really Alaska, but it's dark

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, November 01, 2007

"30 Days of Night"

Columbia Pictures

1 hour, 53 minutes

It was to be expected, I suppose, but it's depressing nonetheless. American moviegoers sent another big thumbs-up to the Hollywood bean-counters who are obviously employing a "Keep it Stupid, Stupid" strategy when deciding what movies to release and promote. "Saw 4" just topped the weekend box office.

Now, to be fair, I didn't see "Saw 4." And I was being fair to me. I don't deserve to sit through that trash, and neither do you. Unfortunately, these last vestiges of the dying "torture-porn" industry have become a Halloween tradition, which means we'll probably be subjected to more. With low budgets, B-rate casts and virtually no story to speak of, the "Saw" series cranks out one film after another, with nary a breath between them.

But we keep buying it, so it's no surprise they keep making it. But I didn't, as I made it perfectly clear, see "Saw 4," so let's move on to what I did see.

"30 Days of Night" is a cool idea and comes close to being a cool movie, before falling flat on its face in the execution. Barrow, Alaska is a little town on the northern edge of the continent that experiences a bizarre phenomenon 30 days of pitch-black night. And what creepy-crawly would get a kick out of such a place? That's right, vampires. I'm betting this is how the pitch went to adapt this stylized graphic-novel to the big screen.

Of course, in L.A., Barrow is little more than a made-up place on the other side of the planet, so who cares if its portrayal is anywhere near accurate. I've never actually been up to the North Slope, but I wouldn't have to look far to find someone who could tell me how far off the studios are in their representation.

The Barrow of the film is basically an old western-style town set in among the snow drifts. A little run down, but quaint. It also must be on another planet, perhaps a square one, because when that sun sets for the last time, it's full-on night, like you dropped a black-out curtain over the whole northern hemisphere.

The town is defined by this phenomenon two-thirds of the population flees to the south when the curtain drops, after which there is no transportation in or out. I wondered about all the guys working "two and two," but I guess they just have to suck it up until the sun comes back up.

This isolation, however, is perfect for a newly arrived group of residents. The vampires are the best parts of the movie frightening and feral, these are nothing like the genteel Draculas you've seen before. They are portrayed as almost alien savage, with weirdly pale visages and horribly sharp teeth.

I appreciated that they were actually foreign, recently arrived from somewhere I may have missed that part (more on that later). Their speech, almost growling, in a guttural Slavic gives the film a tiny glimpse of authenticity, which the rest of the plot and the lame, redundant dialogue do their best to hide.

This film, while not generally succumbing to sadistic torture scenes la "Saw" or "Hostel" is, nevertheless, exceedingly violent. The film is awash with blood, and not the fake, stylized ochre of "Kill Bill" or "300." Almost black on the white snow, this gore is pretty tough. The blood may not look fake, but the acting's pretty close.

Josh Hartnett, as the small-town sheriff, is trying his heart out, but with lines like these, it's not easy. "We'll outlast them! We know this town, and we know the cold. We live up here because we're the only people who can!"

I think the one Native guy in the whole town would probably take issue with that statement.

Speaking of authenticity, aside from the vampires, it's the lack of this element that almost led me to skip this movie. "30 Days of Night" is filmed, not in Alaska, but in New Zealand, on a snow farm.

Irritated by that knowledge, and not anticipating a particularly fun film, I actually got up and walked out about 10 minutes into the movie, sneaking into "The Comebacks" which was just starting.

This stars David Koechner, best known for supporting work in the Will Ferrell comedies, and as the odious Todd Packer from "The Office," so I figured it would have to be fun. Right?

Five minutes of this incredibly cheaply made sports film spoof, culminating with a disgusting scene involving a horse and rubber gloves, sent me back to the vampires. I'm not sure what I missed, but I paid dearly for it.

Say what you want about flesh-eating vampires, but they would never do that.

Grade: C

"30 Days of Night" is rated R for gruesome violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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