Tuesday, 31 January 2012

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

When I first saw the TV spots for ’30 Days of Night’ in 2007 my first impression was that it was a good time vampire horror in the vein of the beer and pizza flick ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ (1996). Not being an avid comic book reader, I knew nothing of the original source material of the graphic novel. If I had of read it before watching the movie though it would have spoiled the huge surprise that was in store for me.

Sure, it has its entertaining set-pieces of action-orientated horror but what I got was a lot different from what I expected. Serious in tone it is bleak, disturbing, emotional, energetic, suspenseful, tense and well paced. The vampire antagonists were returned to their pre Béla Lugosi roots and are just cold, evil, feral, malevolent creatures whose only concern was to satisfy their blood lust killing men, women and children viciously without mercy as if they were cattle. It has a theme of isolation based on the nifty premise of a vampire feeding siege set during thirty days of night in the freezing cold of Burrow, Alaska with the surviving town’s people trying to make it until sunlight. It highlights tight direction, quality writing especially with the characterization, solid acting with particularly Danny Huston as the menacing head vampire Marlow and Ben Foster as The Stranger and it also has lush cinematography. Overall, it is one of the best vampire horror films of the last decade. 

However, the image of this iconic movie monster would start getting gang raped just a year later by the non-horror of the teen romance series Twilight. What a perfect way to fight this abomination of a sickly girlie franchise with a sequel to one of the finest of modern vampire horrors. Yeah you would think that. Rather than a big budget theatrical follow up instead what we got was a low budget straight to disc sequel. While the original was not the huge box office blockbuster it should have been, made for around $30 million it grossed about $75 million worldwide. Personally, what with DVD sales and a substantial fandom I think that warrants a second instalment that the first film deserved so we do not have to put up with this by the numbers pile of shit. A sequel to such an original take on the vampire mythology really deserved to have been a seriously treated companion piece rather than this lazy half-arsed cash in.

To make my viewing of this follow up even worse I made sure I re-watched its predecessor again the right before. To say it pales in comparison is an understatement. It is a direct adaptation of the second graphic novel in the series of the same name ’30 Days of Night: Dark Days’ and has a screenplay co-written by the comic book’s creator Stephen Niles who also had a hand in writing the first movie. Having not read the material this is based upon obviously I cannot compare and while having heard that the comic book is a dam good read judging this film alone it is a real stinker.

After a recap of its predecessor’s climax with narration from survivor Stella Oleson (Kiele Sanchez replacing Melissa George) we are treated to a ‘Seven’ style rip off opening title sequence featuring someone typewriting with the last page reading “They’re in Los Angles. Dane” It then picks up a year later after the events of the previous instalment now in the setting of Los Angeles with Stella grieving for the loss of her husband Eben plagued by nightmares and filled with hatred and vengefulness. A gun and pills by the bedside provide exposition. Waking up from one of the said nightmares, she then takes some of those pills and we see her looking at boxes in her room containing ultraviolet lights. Before she leaves her residence, we see laying around the place the letter typed up in the opening credits.

Stella has spent a great deal of her time traveling and giving lectures trying to convince the world that vampires in fact exist. The real events of the massacre were covered up as an oil fire caused by a faulty pipeline. No explanation is given to what happened to the other survivors who can back up her claims. This is a major flaw never addressed. During one such lecture like the previous talks, there is sceptical laughter from the audience. For proof, she uses the UV lights to expose two vampires sitting in the rows of the auditorium but she forgets to bring a camera to capture it all. Doh! Afterwards, taken by police for questioning and interviewed by a seriously ill corrupt FBI Agent he has all the evidence destroyed by having the vamp bodies insinuated. Turns out, he is a “Bug Eater” a wannabe vampire who does their bidding in return for the promise of immortality Cough! Familiar from ‘Blade’ released 12 years before. 

Returning to her room a group of three lost souls is waiting for her who like herself has lost loved ones to the fangs of vampires and are now vamp hunters. Cough! ‘Blade: Trinity’. Characterization of these individuals is minimal. It is hard for us to feel for them when we do not get to know them. They tell her that the sender of the letters Dane sent them. What does he turn out to be? He is a vampire turned good whose wound was “superficial” and has managed to hold on to “some resemblance of humanity” What a fangtastic cliché! They go on the hunt for Lilith (Mia Kirshner) the vampire queen who is in L.A and is responsible for orchestrating the Barrow massacre. She fails miserably to be convincingly scary, as do all the other vamps that look nothing how they looked in the original.

Part of what made the original work so well was the setting of isolation of a small far out town and the uniqueness in its hook of a premise with the title being self-explanatory of that ’30 Days of Night’. This almighty balls up of a sequel has none of this in an urban setting with a distinct lack of suspense and tension and no constant threat of darkness. The movie’s title does not fit. It is a genetic addition to the vampire sub-genre with a predictable plot of the hunters venturing into the lair to slay the beast. They also primarily use guns which are effective in killing the vamps whereas in the first film it did not even slow them down. This is just testament to the poor writing here. The action sequences are lackluster but have a fair amount gore in there. It is all truly forgettable though. The acting is largely average at best but Sanchez does what she can to fill the boots of George considering the thin script.

This is this franchise’s equivalent of ‘From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money’ (1999). Please just stick to the vastly superior predecessor. It looks like for now we will just have to put up with Twilight’s Edward forcing a young woman to choose between necrophilia and bestiality.

* out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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