A vampire flick set in a small, snowy town where there’ll be no daylight respite for a whole month? Been done before, in last year’s Swedish scarer Frostbite. That film, though, angled for yuk-yuks as often as yucks. 30 Days Of Night – based on the same-titled cult graphic novel – takes its killer pitch very, very seriously. There are spikes of black humour: a game of rock-paper-sciss-AARGH!; or a bit where a neck-gnawing nipper charges through a door, without opening it. But this is a bleak, dialogue-pinched, survivalist spooker; its keynotes fear, hopelessness and bitter sacrifice. Get the popcorn in...
Instead of seeming po-faced, there’s a stark, harsh integrity. Instead of a suave, seductive über-villain, there’s Danny Huston. Shark-eyed, slack-jawed, needle-mouthed, he’s an unholy terror as Marlowe, leader of the ravenous pack of claret-cravers who invade Barrow, Alaska when the sun sinks into hibernation. Trouble is, Houston’s so frightful he makes the rest of his expanding clan (feral, zombie-like meat-munchers) look like, well, suckers. He’s also used a tad too sparingly by director David Slade (hiking up the Holly-ladder on the impact of Hard Candy). Elsewhere, however, less is definitely more: the subdued, gathering chill of the pre-blackout build-up; the off-screen atrocities amplified in the imagination by the sounds of characters retching, screeching, dying.
Shame that the shocks and set-pieces aren’t stronger, though. Sure, the corn syrup is chucked about, but few of the action spasms really get the blood racing. There’s more pulse in the stillness. And while you’ll feel pity for the protagonists, they could use a charisma infusion. As Barrow’s beleaguered sheriff/ prospective saviour, Josh Hartnett shows some range: squinty panic; squinty numbness; clenched grit (with a squint). But Hartnett’s estranged wife Melissa George spends most of her time waiting and quaking in a furry Parka. As a duo, they’re... solid. Competent. A bit dull. The proof is in the ending, a would-be tragi-poetic tableau not half as affecting as it should be. Still... suspense, atmos, some nice beheadings: as a dawning franchise (there are several follow-ups to adapt), the outlook’s not too gloomy.
This has more bite than we've come to expect from Sam Raimi's Ghost House production outfit. Some of the action misses the jugular, but Danny Huston makes for a sensational baddie.