[Screen It]

(2007) (Josh Hartnett, Melissa George) (R)

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Horror: When they're plunged into perpetual darkness in the middle of winter for 30 straight days, the residents of Barrow, Alaska must contend with vampires who've descended upon their town, intent on killing everyone.
It's the middle of winter in Barrow, Alaska, and the residents are preparing for the month-long period where the sun won't ever rise. Fire marshal Stella Oleson (MELISSA GEORGE) is there doing inspections and hopes to catch the last flight out, and hasn't informed her sheriff husband, Eben (JOSH HARTNETT), that she's there.

He and his deputy, Billy (MANU BENNETT) have their hands full, however, when a number of peculiar incidents start occurring, including the arrival of an odd man, The Stranger (BEN FOSTER), who claims that "they" are coming for him. Little do any of the locals, including loner Beau (MARK BOONE JUNIOR) or Eben's 15-year-old brother, Jake (MARK RENDALL), realize he's referring to a bunch of vampires, led by the foreign-speaking Marlow (DANNY HUSTON), who've descended upon their town.

Having knocked out both the power and any communication with the outside world, the vampires proceed to kill most everyone in town. Once they realize what's occurring, Eben, Stella and a handful of other survivors do what they can to avoid the monsters and try to figure out a way to survive until the sun rises again.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Long ago, in another life (or, at least a career), I worked in the U.S. Senate where I had contact not only with all 100 senators, but also staff from their 50 states. Accordingly, I got to hear facts, figures and stories about all of them, but few were as intriguing as those from Alaska.

While some might imagine that's due to the oil stipend that all residents received back then, the amazing wildlife, the Northern Lights, and/or the bitter cold, that's partially true. Yet, far more amazing were tales of the little town of Barrow and its summer months filled with nonstop daylight, where closing down a bar at 2 a.m. meant walking out into sunshine.

Of course, what goes up, must come down, meaning that in the winter months, the sun doesn't make an appearance from sometime late in November through the same in January. Sales of flashlights, vehicle headlights and an array of seasonal disorder remedies are probably in abundance.

The one thing that never struck me, however, is that notwithstanding the bitter cold, such a place would be a perfect winter haven for vampires. After all, with no annoying sunlight to get in their way, they'd have a field day feasting on the locals, particularly since Barrow is an isolated town, a long way from the next inhabited locale of any note.

After all these years of movies and other non-fiction about such bloodsuckers, it's remarkable that, as far as I can tell, "30 Days of Night" is the first film to take advantage of that unique solar situation. Before seeing it, however, the question remained regarding what would be done with that setup beyond having the "why didn't I think of that before" scenario.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers -- director David Slade working from a script by Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie -- don't do much once they've established the premise, and they even bungle that, at least to a technical degree. In the film, the hearty folks are preparing for the big day when the sun goes down, and weird things are starting to occur underfoot. Cell phones are collected and burned, sled dogs are barbarically slaughtered, all mysterious to the residents but obvious to most viewers that the vampires are quite efficient in isolating the Barrowans (or is that Barrowians or Barrowers?).

Beyond the goofy bits about that (taking out the lone cell tower would appear to be easier and less conspicuous than somehow nabbing everyone's phone), the filmmakers treat the arrival of no daylight as a month long total eclipse. In reality, dusk is present for many of the days. While that still wouldn't affect the vampires (only direct sunlight does that), and I realize I'm nitpicking a non-realistic horror film, such thoughts are likely to pop up in many a viewer's mind.

That's because what we have here isn't just a failure to communicate, but also an omission of doing anything fun or novel with the premise. Okay, so our would-be victims are isolated, cold, and in perpetual nighttime. And? Well, there really isn't much else, save for the umpteenth retreading of most any film where creatures hunt down humans. Most viewers will automatically think of any number of zombie films, while terrific campy pics such as "Tremors" and brilliant action ones like "Aliens" will also come to mind.

The problem is that since we've seen all of them before, the material here feels, well, rather blasť. Sure the vampires are given some foreign language to speak, contain mouthfuls of sharp teeth rather than the usual two pointy canines, and Danny Huston as the lead vamp has such an interesting hairstyle that you'll probably wonder where any self-respecting vampire gets his or her hair done (especially in Northern Alaska, in the middle of winter).

With standard-issue jump scenes, high shutter speed attacks (that are more wolf pack in nature than the old-fashioned neck nibble), and an ever dwindling number of cast members (some of which, natch, have some sort of past together, particularly meaning those played by Josh Hartnett and Melissa George), we simply watch what occurs, always mindful that we'll get down to just a handful of survivors before they rid the world, or at least their corner of it, from the beasties.

To be fair, Slade does manage to create a few spooky scenes (the kid vamps being the most troubling, although they end up bordering on camp), but the most interesting character (in both the trailers and now the film) ends up getting the short shrift. I'm speaking of Ben Foster who was so magnetic as the second villain in "3:10 to Yuma" and comes off as the creepy, mysterious stranger here.

With dirty teeth, wild eyes, and a scraggly but prophetic warning about what's to come, Foster creates yet another indelible persona. Sadly, he doesn't end up amounting to much, and once he's bitten the dust (so to speak), the film loses much of its interest. That is, except for making one wonder why we never get to hear Elton John singeing, "Don't let the sun, go down on me" or any young actress belting out, "The sun'll come out, tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, that tomorrow, there'll be sun."

"30 Days of Night" takes a fun premise and then pretty much squanders it in a rote us vs. them horror flick. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 12, 2007 / Posted October 19, 2007

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