30 Days of Night Review
30 Days of Night is not only a great winter horror movie or a great vampire movie, this year it’s particularly relevant.
Winter: The season of hot drinks, twinkling lights, big sweaters, and (in the past) holiday parties.
It is also the season of darkness, of isolation, of too much time inside your apartment, especially this year. Even in a normal year, winter can be tough to handle; this year the usual trials of the season are exacerbated by a fraught political climate, loads of uncertainty, and the sheer mental strain of having dealt with a pandemic for nine months.
In the midst of all that, I decided to double down on all of those feelings and watch 30 Days of Night, a delightfully brutal movie from the mind of David Slade, adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, set in the town of Barrow, Alaska, a place which goes 30 straight days without any sunlight. This simple premise sets the stage for an all-out vampiric assault on the small town.
30 Days of Night is not only a great winter horror movie or a great vampire movie, this year it’s particularly relevant. An insidious, and to begin with invisible, enemy has come to town, forcing people into even more extreme acts of isolation and desperation.
Dead on Screen. Dread in Real Life.
This re-watch honestly surprised me. I saw this movie for the first time over a decade ago and remembered being unimpressed, but I’ve grown up enough to admit when I’m wrong. Upon a second viewing, this movie was a horror delight and should be considered an essential vampire feature.
This film perfectly captures the feelings of impending isolation and darkness that can so characterizes the winter months. There were winters in my life that felt like living in Barrow – where the cold and the dark became oppressive things. You could literally go days (sometimes it felt like weeks) without seeing the sun; waking up in the dark, going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark.
30 Days of Night manages to quickly and efficiently capture this sense of impending darkness and rote living without becoming bogged down in it.
One of the greatest strengths of 30 Days of Night is the film’s pacing, particularly in the first half.
It opens with a gorgeous prologue, setting the scene with several frames that look like they’ve been taken right out of a graphic novel’s splash page.
The opening scene is chilling and immediately disconcerting, creating a tense sense of menace before a word has been spoken. A late, secondary title card bearing the words “Last Day of Sun” is a nerve-tingling hint at what is about to befall Barrow; darkness will rule the next 30 days.
30 Days of Night finds its’ pace immediately and sticks to it, giving us some fast character intros, most importantly that of Sheriff Eben (the film’s hero played by Josh Hartnett) and giving us our first glimpse of the town proper. Barrow is swirling with activity as people use their final hours of light to either finish their preparations or get out of town while they still can.
This movie knows why we’re here though, to see vampires feed on helpless townsfolk and it gets right to it. Our first human kill comes at roughly 17 minutes (animal lovers should be warned there’s a very disturbing scene at 12:00 minutes that they may want to cover their eyes for). Our second human kill comes not long after at 22 minutes and away we go!
By just over the half hour mark things are pure bedlam, cars burn in the streets, people are attacked in their homes or dragged out of them and everywhere we turn – vampires roam killing with abandon.
Slade gives us a mesmerizing aerial shot of the carnage; blood soaks the snow, vampires swarm all over the screen, and survivors attempt to fight their way out. When it actually pops off, it gets bad and gets bad fast. Could there be a better representation for 2020?
The vampires in 30 Days of Night are fascinating and repellant all at once. Prosthetics are used to great effect giving the vampires inhuman and deeply unsettling features.
These vampires are primal and bestial. They look like sharks and hunt like wolves, but they are sophisticated as well. These vampires speak their own language and employ cunning tactics, using one of the few survivors as bait to draw out the other remaining humans. When this plan fails though, they mercilessly attack the woman being used as bait – delighting in her suffering.
Slade shows us vampires that are pure vamps; although they wear regular clothing and communicate to each other, we get no sense from them that a piece of their human self remains. They live to feed and kill, they are pure predators and 30 Days of Night gives us example after example of how magnificently deadly these creatures are. Our remaining humans having survived a bacchanalian night of bloodletting find themselves in what has become an all too familiar situation: Trapped inside, nervously peeking out of their windows, tensions mounting as they wonder who has survived and where they go from here.
The physical darkness and isolation that this film presents speaks directly to our last 9 months as well as the upcoming ones. We’ve passed the holidays and we now find ourselves in that long stretch between New Years and spring; a long and often difficult time for many people made even more complicated by the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
I pride myself on being an optimist but also want to be realistic; this winter is going to be tough. It already has been tough for so many people and it’s not done yet. Like the survivors of our film, we now know our enemy and have seen the consequences of their arrival. We have had to practice new ways of working, living, and being. But it is still night. The dawn has not yet come.
“We Can’t Fight Them the Way That We Are”
Despite that, 30 Days of Night offers us a morsel of hope. One of Sheriff Eben’s final lines is profoundly timely; speaking to the possibility of a way forward for us. Minutes from the end of the film Josh Hartnett says to the survivors, “we can’t fight them the way that we are.” Sadly, there is perhaps no better summation to the American response to Covid-19.
1 in 1000 Americans have died of Covid-19, with over 2000 deaths a day at the time that I’m writing this. Although we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that a culture that increasingly distrusts authority figures, and has long prided itself on individualism, has not handled the pandemic as well as it could have. We should, however, still be saddened by it. We can mourn it and do our best to change things.
Although we cannot UV ray or shotgun or snow plow the virus to death, 30 Days of Night still speaks to where we find ourselves. This winter brings with it new levels of isolation and worry, but also the need for new levels of altruism, empathy, and, not to oversell it, sacrifice.
As we look ahead to several more months of winter and the impending challenges – we need to ask ourselves: do we want next year to be different? Or are we willing to let this be the first of many winters marked by Covid?
As another character states towards the end of the film, “Next time they’ll take out Point Hope, Wainright…” referencing other small towns in the area that the vampires will destroy if they escape, so the denizens of Barrow must band together to do all they can to contain and eliminate this menace. This is the kind of communal thinking we need right now, and something we need to keep in mind, to encourage ourselves and each other. Your lonely Christmas might have saved a life. My solo Thanksgiving “celebrations” may have saved a life. We can’t beat this thing like we are, but we can beat it.
So do your part. Wear a mask, stay home, and spend one of the dark wintery nights watching the fantastic vampire feature, 30 Days of Night! If nothing else, it’ll remind you that things could be a whole lot worse out there.