Steve Niles’ “30 Days of Night” comic-book series, which got underway in 2002, worked a clever new twist on the vampire genre. In the opening issues, a group of vampires discovered the existence of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Since the sun deserted this remote habitation for one whole month every year (in the comic, anyway), the famously light-loathing vampires decided to travel to Barrow and spend those 30 sunless days feasting on the locals.
It’s a fun premise, but of course limited: vampires attack, townsfolk die, survivors hide, flee, hide somewhere else, and so on. To keep the series stalking along, Niles added interwoven subplots, the first of which involved a survivor of the Barrow slaughter who escaped to Los Angeles and tried to raise anti-vampire consciousness. This and subsequent narrative elaborations effectively fended off monotony.
Unfortunately, in the new movie adaptation of “30 Days of Night” (which Niles had a hand in scripting), the filmmakers have been forced, presumably by time constraints, to focus exclusively on the Barrow invasion. Since the picture runs nearly two hours, the continual gut-ripping and face-chewing and scampering and holing up soon become tedious, and we start to notice things like the actors’ breath, which sometimes is seen to be condensing in the cold air, and sometimes isn’t. There’s also the vampire language, a vaguely Balkan tongue (they sound like they’re gagging on a cheeksteak) that quickly became a source of rude amusement among the audience with which I saw the movie.
Being limited to killing, dying or fleeing, there’s not much the actors can do with their characters. Josh Hartnett brings his usual bland amiability to the role of Eben Oleson, the Barrow sheriff, and Melissa George is very blonde (and appealingly feisty) as his wife, Stella. But even kitted out with barracuda-like fangs and thick splatters of blood, Danny Huston seems too nice a man to be the vicious head vampire, Marlow (a name that makes you wonder why he doesn’t speak English). Mark Boone Junior brings snorts of life to the picture as an angrily resistant Barrow resident, but he’s eclipsed by all the hide-and-seek commotion. And while Ben Foster, as a sort of vampire advance man, briefly enlivens the film with his trademark mad-eyed malevolence, he’s not around long enough to salvage this oddly colorless enterprise.
Director David Slade — whose last movie, the bracingly nasty “Hard Candy,” couldn’t have been more different from this one if it were a musical set in Bermuda — maintains a convincing atmosphere of shivery tension in the beginning. But he’s too faithful to the sometimes incoherent visual style of the comics (which were drawn by Ben Templesmith), and so a lot of the vampire-attack action is little more than flashing spasms of bloody, snarfling violence, which become tiresomely disorienting. In addition, a big-deal confrontation between two powerful vampires turns out to be little more than a routine action-flick smackdown. The final scene, a lyrical blend of love and sunburn, is nicely done. But by then our interest has drained away.Read Kurt Loder’s review of “Gone Baby Gone,” also new in theaters this week.
Check out everything we’ve got on “30 Days of Night.”
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