Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

There's something to be said about a movie that is based almost entirely on blood, gore, and death.  There's something more to be said about a movie that doesn't take the cheap way out and holds back that same blood, gore, and death so that your imagination creates a picture of the action that's far worse than anything a Photoshop artist could create.  And that's a very fine line to walk - showing enough to satisfy the horror fans' bloodlust, but not so much that you destroy the workings of the audience's imagination.  It is this very line that David Slade and his cast walk with 30 Days of Night, and suprisingly it's a balance that is maintained quite well in this movie. 

The plot is pretty straightforward - in the first five minutes or so we're introduced to Barrow, Alaska, a town that experiences 30 days of night every year, because it's the northern-most city in the United States.  Barrow's population drops from a max of about 500 to somewhere around 150, and those who stay take pride in the fact that they can withstand the rigors of 30 straight days of darkness.  There's a strong sense of community that's communicated quickly and effectively, and the basic relationships are well laid out.  Not a lot of time is spent in developing all the characters, but at the same time they never really feel like stereotypes.
Unfortunately, this year brings a stranger to Barrow, who we watch through the opening credits walking across the snow and ice from an ice-locked freighter nearby.  The town sheriff finds some odd occurrences before darkness falls - a large group of cell phones is burned, all of the town's sled dogs are massacred.  He knows something is happening, but has no idea how badly this will all really turn out.  The stranger makes a scene in the local bar, after being refused alcohol (town law places a prohibition on alcohol during the 30 days of darkness), and winds up in the pokey after attacking the sheriff (and getting a gun placed to the back of his head by the sheriff's estranged wife in the process).
The human drama is light, but very believable - something happened between the sheriff and his wife, who is a fire marshall, and they've decided to part ways.  She comes to town on assignment, unbeknownst to him, and is forced to call him for help when she misses the plane out of Barrow.  It's an adult situation, and it's treated like adults would approach it - there's no overblown drama here, just people trying to make do with the hand that fate has dealt them.
However, what fate has handed them up to this point is nothing compared to what's coming.  As more odd things begin to happen - the town's communications systems go down, followed by the power going out - the stranger begins to predict dire consequences for the townspeople: "They're coming for me..."
And sure enough, "they" are - a group of vampires that has less resemblance to the Anne Rice world and more resemblance to the Animal Kingdom world.  These vampires are predators; they are old, smart, and determined.  They don't hesitate to use humans as bait, and they strike quickly, decisively, and without mercy.  In the first day, the ranks of Barrow's residents is cut by 90%, with blood on the snow showing the location of their victims' last stands.
From there, the movie goes into survival-horror territory.  The remaining members of the Barrow population hole up in different locations, hoping that they will be able to wait out the darkness - all the while being slowly picked off one-by-one by the vampires roaming the streets.
As with any horror movie of this type, a sacrifice must be made in order to save the town.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the film yet, but the climax and denouement are very satisfying and fit perfectly with the tone of the film as well as the characters that we have watched develop.
David Slade has taken a challenge set by many recent comic book adaptations and met it handily, which is all the more impressive considering the combination of comic books and horror hasn't exactly been the most successful in its transition to the big screen.  But this movie definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it, and is a solid addition to the world of survival horror.