30 Days of Night

I think everyone in the world has had some passing fascination with vampires. Whether it’s a classic like Nosferatu, some goofy modern like Twilight, or really any flavor in-between. You’ve probably seen a vampire flick that made your blender spin. I think it’s just innately human nature honestly. Seeing people that aren’t people, perhaps? The OTHER that hides amongst us and seeks to destroy us in the dead of night. Something primal, that. I think that’s why we will always see vampire movies, as it’s just something we want to think about – to obsess about. 30 Days of Night is a film born of that. It’s a movie of fascination, but no great ideas on how to expand further on that idea.

In most vampire movies, you have a singular (often titular) vampire that rules his dark dominion, kind of like Dracula. Slightly less common (but still not absent from recent memory) are the brood films. Films where a whole host of fanged baddies team up to drink some blood. Perhaps the most well-known is “From Dusk till Dawn,” but there are plenty of others. I think these “brood-style” ideas give a much greater sense of narrative freedom. With a singular vampire, it’s very straightforward. You have to kill them or stop them or appease them, etc etc etc. With a brood film, it’s a lot more hectic, just like 30 Days of Night.

30 Days of Night doesn’t have a super structured story outside of a core concept and love interest, but it does show the chilling version of a brood that just wants destruction. This brood keeps a pet human that enters towns in advance to serve some purpose like infrastructure damage/entanglement (kill/damage modes of transport, tie up first responder time), so that when the time is ripe they are able to go buck wild on some humans. This is a super interesting take to me in that there isn’t much of a plan beyond the destruction of life. It sort of reminds me of a wildfire; moving without too much meaning, but taking spark somewhere and decimating everything around it.

This is all taking place in Alaska, which is known for its loooooong stretches of darkness/light consecutively (Land of the Midnight Sun after all). This concept ALONE sells me on this movie, because the biggest drawback a vampire would have is basically nullified for 30 days! That’s honestly so fucking cool! Vampires anywhere else? Eh, whatever. Vampires in Alaska? Sign me the fuck up for that shit, that’s rad. Combine that with a decent budget and interesting action, and you’ve got a ton of potential to work with.

There’s also a strong point in the characterization of the vampires as sort of, but not really, people. When one of their own gets hurt they react to that out of concern instead of weakest link mentality. They seemingly operate as one unit with a combined goal as opposed to a bunch of individuals grouped by necessity. It’s a nice change to most brood/pack style horror concepts, and it’s a really strong point in favor of this movie. Perhaps my favorite scene is when a character is changed into a vampire after fighting a small vampire girl, and he reveals just how much he had been suffering in silence, and details that even post-death his suffering continues. His emotions and pain were all still there, and now that was coupled with a never-ending thirst that he had no desire to quench. His suffering leads him to ask to be put out of his misery, which I think is a rare self-aware moment of man-turning-monster in movies.

But this strong characterization is juxtaposed with some really limited intelligence. MULTIPLE times in the movie, the vampires are summarily distracted and led away from something important for the plot, and it just happens. There’s no hesitance, they just follow like zombies instead of vampires which really serves to undermine their established characterization.

There are certainly other drawbacks, however. How do you make a vampire story like this interesting beyond the wanton slaughter and strong core concept? Is there a reason to really? I think most movies exist on concept alone, and writing can feel tacked on. This isn’t really an exception. I imagine most people watching this movie know exactly what they’re in for, but that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to further develop the writing. Especially if it’s being adapted from a source material (like 30 Days of Night). In this case, the biggest drawbacks are the fantasy language spoken by the vampires, and the general behavior of the vampires once the initial wave of brutal violence is over.

The language is… something. It’s really guttural, so I suppose it’s meant to be “ancient” and “mysterious”, but it doesn’t really come across well in my opinion. It really sounds like when a kid has phlegm in their throat and keeps hacking and coughing while speaking. Or maybe more akin to that fake “scary” voice that kids like to do to sound cool. It really hurts the experience to hear them say some dumb shit instead of just speaking a real language. I think a creature that can adapt to new concepts is far scarier than one that can’t stop using a 3,000 year old fake language.

The other major detractor for me mostly has to do with how the vampires behave once they have a cornered human. Lots of scratching with the nails. And boy do I mean LOTS of catty scratching. I suppose it’s really reminiscent of a cat playing with a mouse, but to me it’s not that scary to see a pale dude with long nails do a scratch. They have such amazing designs too! The mouths make them look like bipedal goth sharks with a mouth full of razors! AND ALL THEY DO IS SOME WEIRD SCRATCHING ATTACK LIKE A LEVEL 5 STARTER POKEMON!

And good lord the main characters are forgettable! They are simply copy-pasted from any and every horror movie ever. Forget Last Girl, it’s just ACTION MAN AND ACTION GIRL! All of the characters outside of the main two hold up much better, and some face some real crises, but that doesn’t inherently make up for the boring pair we are stuck with primarily. They are a separated couple who are super totally very in love still. While that trope is pretty tired, it’s excusable in my opinion as it can serve as a decent plot vehicle. But there isn’t really any romantic chemistry or proper explanation as to what/why they are the way they are. We know they lived together briefly, but there really isn’t much beyond that for their background.

And the awesome monster design feels so wasted past the initial wave of violence. There just isn’t really an accomplished feel of danger for the characters as they skate through the story winning time and again against the brood. The vampires become very theatrical at points which is a super weird deviation from their seemingly brutal nature. This isn’t a super bad thing I guess, but the film goes out of its way to establish them as a force of nature, and by the end they feel more like a tour de force performance of CATS.

I will give immense credit to the action and goriness of the movie, as it shows a lot of creativity. From UV burns to mechanical separation, there’s a lot to love here. Characters do seem to get their comeuppance if demanded, and it’s satisfying to see. Even the child vampire gets theirs! Kids in movies sometimes need to be a bit more mortal like in Pet Sematary or Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. It really raises the stakes when you legitimately can’t tell how things will be handled for any character.

I’ll avoid a rating system, and just go with a recommendation: you should definitely watch this movie if you want to see some vampires doing vampire shit. It’s basically CATS but with vampires instead, so don’t expect a ton of heavy lifting from the story and I think you’ll enjoy yourself plenty.

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