Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Review: "30 Days of Night"

Director David Slade's 2006 debut film, Hard Candy, a disturbing thriller about a pedophile (Patrick Wilson) who becomes the prey for a vengeful 14 year old girl (Ellen Page), met with mixed reaction from critics. I found it to be an extremely stylish, almost unbearably intense nerve shredder that showed great promise for the former music video director. However, his latest, the vampire horror outing 30 Days of Night doesn't even come close to capitalizing on that promise.

Set in a remote Alaskan town where the sun will not rise for 30 days, plunging the town into perpetual darkness, 30 Days of Night follows Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), who find themselves faced with a town overrun by bloodthirsty vampires after the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) on the last day of daylight.

I'll admit I was intrigued by the premise, and the film's poster is one of the most striking and gutsy horror movie posters of recent years. But the resulting film doesn't really work on any level. It is riddled with plot holes and glaring leaps in logic, and its gigantic leaps in time through the titular 30 days makes little sense. What could have been a genuinely creepy film ends up being ridiculous and downright silly due to poor structure, an even weaker script, and ludicrous, non-sensical plot twists.

Although, just like in Hard Candy before it, I admire Slade's use of light and color. His compositions have a stark beauty to them, but the problem is that Hard Candy was shot-for-shot a vastly scarier film than 30 Days of Night. 30 Days may deliver the blood and gore, but Hard Candy remains the single most unnerving film I have seen in the past several years. Here, Slade is hampered by the nearly laughable dialogue and the fact that his film really makes no sense. There is nothing here to distinguish it from any other sub-par outing other than Slade's superior mise-en-scene.

I did however, also admire the performance of Ben Foster as The Stranger. Foster is quickly establishing himself as one of our most interesting character actors, and after his wonderfully despicable turn as Russell Crowe's right hand man in 3:10 to Yuma, he has definitely proven himself as someone to watch. He may not have been in the film very much, but he left a greater impression than nearly any other aspect of the film. I would like to see what he would do with a character that isn't so sleazy.

Slade hasn't made the worst horror film ever made. There have probably been more truly wretched works in this genre than any other in cinema history (except for maybe science-fiction). But he didn't make one that distinguishes itself either. 30 Days of Night is a sadly missed opportunity, a waste of talent on senseless dreck that made even the always welcome Danny Huston as the vampire leader look silly.

Hard Candy demonstrated Slade's talent and skill at creating tension. 30 Days of Night looks totally inept by comparison, which may have a lot to do with the fact that it was a director-for-hire studio project, and Hard Candy was a more personal independent project. I hope that one day, Slade will make a great film that will make everyone sit up and notice.

30 Days of Night
isn't it.

GRADE - *½

30 DAYS OF NIGHT; Directed by David Slade; Stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Jonathan Bennett, Ben Foster; Rated R for strong horror violence and language

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