Monday, March 3, 2008

RECENT WATCH - Daze for Night

30 Days of Night (2007)

In small town Alaska when the annual month of no sunlight begins, a gang of feral vampires attack. Squinty eyed sherif Josh Hartnett and fire woman hottie Melissa George lead a small brigade of potential victims trying to survive the ordeal.

This is one depressing bleak-ass movie. 

I guess it’s based on a comic book series, which makes sense, it’s a great setup, a cool idea. But as a film some things worked, other aspects left me frustrated.

The layout of the town never made sense to me or the exact number of folks there and those lil' facts both play into the suspense. Not to mention for a town trapped in darkness there was a hell of a lot of moonlight to make things easy for the DP who had to shot this. 

An exciting opening act climaxes with the full on brutal attack, culminating with a stunning overhead shot (reminding me of the great opening pre credits shot in Dawn Of The Dead (2004), only this looks less like a video-game).

A group of survivors manages to hide out, inexplicably in a old house’s attic. And before you can ask, what are they living on up there and where are they taking their dumps- presto! Twenty-something days have passed and now they're itching to relocate.

The goal of the vampires wasn’t clear, do they just want to kill everyone in town? If so, they don’t seem to be working too hard to find the would-be-Anne Franks. Or is their goal more then just a feast? The vampire leader (well played by Danny Huston) in his Swahili/Siberian lingo expound a little Omega Man (1971)-like vengeance against human kind. Similar to Lance Henriksen’s Alpha-Vamp in the great, Near Dark (1987), Huston isn’t just all bite, he has a soft side too. He a sucker for his main-squeeze and when her looks get zapped by a garden lamp, he gets really pissy.

The opening scenes involve the vampire’s sycophant prowling about preparing the town for their arrival, as a sorta Renfield the actor Ben Foster steals the flick, as he did as Russel Crowe’s psycho-toady in 3:10 To Yuma (the best flick of 2007). Unfortunately his character doesn’t last too long, I was just warming up to his dirty teeth and Cana-dah accent and then he goes and gets himself knocked off.

Actor/dude Josh Hartnett, gets a bad rap sometimes. Yeah, he was horribly miscast in Brian De Palma’s horrible adaptation of The Black Dahlia (ruining James Ellroy’s brilliant novel). And most of the flicks I've seen him in were unmemorable (Wicker ParkLucky Number Slevin, etc). But when I first noticed him, great in The Virgin Suicides (1999) and later in Black Hawk Down (2004), I thought he seemed kinda like a young Tommy Lee Jones (the pretty boy version). Maybe because of his skimpy slint eyes, like Bronson in Once Upon A Time In The West, there appeared to be some kinda drama going on in his face (Yes,  generous of me. But like Kate Winslet’s doe-eyes, she doesn’t have to do much for me to assume something is going on behind them). And in this flick's script, I appreciated that Hartnett’s young sherif, is unlike most action heroes, he seemed pretty clueless and scared and vulnerable. Also his character is all tortured by having to save the town along side his recent ex, whom he still pines for, the foxy Melissa George, which I can relate to. Oh and also his beloved grandma was killed by the ghouls, I guess maybe that bums him out a bit too. 

Man, I remember this Melissa George from Dark City (1998) and she has impressively survived a couple dozen forgettable flicks since. But besides being a cutey, she’s a very dependable actress. Maybe she needs to get more uglified, maybe she needs her own Monster or Monster Ball. You know, to take her from heroes-honey to critics-darling.

All in all, this 30 Days Of Night uses a cleaver recipe, one spoonful of two of John Carpenter’s best, The Thing (1980) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). Then for fun, throw in a dash of his Vampires (1998) and The Fog (1980). And mix in some atmosphere from Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979) and a whole lotta that lame Swedish flick Frostbitten (2006)... presto!. You get a tasty worth-while rental. 

Like director David Slade’s previous flick Hard Candy (2005) it’s a genre movie, but it has some twists and enough heart to make it feel a little more weighty then it probably actually is. SPOILER: Unlike Hard Candy this one actually has a powerful last minute that feels earned.


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