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‘30 Days of Night’ feels about that long

While the flick is a huge cut above most of the gore fests passing themselves off as scary movies today, the premise and its repetitive gimmicks gradually grow monotonous.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the very cool idea behind the graphic novel “30 Days of Night” — vampires tramping up to Barrow, Alaska, for a monthlong feeding frenzy during winter’s prolonged darkness — it was virtually assured that Hollywood would turn it into a movie.

Yet while the flick is a huge cut above most of the gore fests passing themselves off as scary movies today, the premise and its repetitive gimmicks gradually grow as monotonous as, well, 30 days of night.

You can only see so many snarling hissy fits by vampires with perpetually bloody chins before they start looking less like monsters and more like ill-tempered circus clowns whose makeup is running.

With a crisp setup to establish that it’s the eve of Barrow’s long night, when the sun will set and not rise again for 30 days, director David Slade (the independent feature “Hard Candy”) propels the audience into a bout of frenetic and frightening action.

The vamps cut power and phone lines and massacre packs of sled dogs as they remove all obstacles that could disrupt their extended banquet.

Then they start munching on human necks with an animal ferocity unlike the more civilized style of other screen bloodsuckers. Slade fashions some memorably graphic and startlingly artistic images of the initial frenzy, among them wide crane shots showing the snowy streets of Barrow randomly stained with blood, like splotches on a Jackson Pollock canvas.

The momentum begins to fade once a little band of survivors, led by the local sheriff, Eben (Josh Hartnett), and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), hole up in an attic to figure out how to ride out the month until the sun comes up and sends the vampires to bed without any more supper (the sun actually goes into hiding in Barrow for about two months and change, but the title “60-Some-Odd Days of Night” doesn’t have that same zing).

The movie’s three screenwriters include Steve Niles, who created the “30 Days of Night” comic with Ben Templesmith.

The filmmakers rightly conclude that you don’t need much plot beyond the basic premise, but they wrongly plug in a lot of ill-formed characters, with only Eben and Stella getting the vaguest of back stories. (She’s a fire marshal who left hubby, he wants her back, she returns for a fire inspection, misses the last plane out before nightfall and gets stuck in Barrow for the whole month. So planes can’t take off at night north of the Arctic Circle?)

Everyone else is there to eat or be eaten, though Barrow is decimated so quickly it seems the vampires might need to order out for another remote Arctic town to get them through winter.

Leading the vampires is the generally versatile Danny Huston, who’s stuck here talking mostly in a guttural, subtitled language as he leads his pack.

The rest of his gang are meant to behave like dogs and succeed well enough, though it doesn’t help their fright factor that one of the hissy underlings resembles Marilyn Manson after a sloppy helping of spaghetti without a bib.

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The usually stiff and lifeless Hartnett gives a more supple performance here, and the filmmakers craft a starkly moving ending around his and George’s characters.

Ben Foster, a scene-stealer as Russell Crowe’s deranged lieutenant in “3:10 to Yuma,” is effective with some more crazed moments here, playing a human doing the vampires’ dirty chores, hoping to become one of them.

Produced by “Spider-Man” overlord Sam Raimi and his production partner Rob Tapert, “30 Days of Night” was filmed in New Zealand, and the movie’s behind-the-scene star has to be production Paul Austerberry.

The Barrow he recreates far from Alaska, buried in artificial snow that looks icy and authentic, is a truly forlorn outpost, an ideal place for creatures of the night to come and put on the feedbag.