“30 Days of Night” is easily one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a very long time mostly because everyone involved seemed to know exactly what it takes to make a decent horror movie. It’s not obscene amounts of gore or monsters jumping out at the camera that make a movie scary. It’s creepy atmosphere that makes a movie particularly scary, and this movie does a great job at creating the kind of atmosphere that fills the viewer with the kind of dread that so many movies fail to achieve. It’s not perfect, but it’s still better than just about every horror movie I’ve seen since “The Descent” (which also relied on a creepy atmosphere to fill the viewer with a sense of dread and hopelessness).
This movie is set in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the U.S. Because it is so far up north, there comes a time every winter where the sun doesn’t rise for 30 days. The fact that this translates into a month without sunlight attracts a group of vampires who attack the town and spend the month feeding on its citizens. Eventually only a handful of humans remain in town, and they must survive the month without starving, freezing, or being killed by the vampires. It’s a fairly simple concept, yet the director makes it work incredibly well. There is a sense of dread and hopelessness that permeates this entire film. Barrow is a town that appears to be cut off from the rest of the world. It seems to be surrounded by a sea of white on all sides, and the citizens seem to be stuck in a state of depression. Barrow seems to be the worst place in the world to be, and that’s before the sun sets and the vampires show up. When the vampires do make themselves known, that sense of isolation and hopelessness turns into a feeling of dread that doesn’t go away. One really gets the sense that there is no escape for the small group of survivors. This feeling is made all the more real by the long periods between the vampire attacks. Normally I consider long periods where not much happens a bad thing, but here it works in the film’s favor. We may not always see the vampires, but their presence is always felt. At any given time in the movie one can see blood splattered onto snow and hear the distant screams and occasional gunfire of yet another one of Barrow’s citizens getting killed, and it’s easy to get the feeling that any of the main characters could be the next to die. The vampires themselves are also unlike any we’ve seen in movies for some time. They aren’t the kind of seductive and charming vampires that seem to show up in every other horror movie. These vampires are feral, ruthless, and sadistic, with sharp crocodile-like teeth and bloodstained clothes. There’s nothing romantic about them or their actions; they just want to kill people and drink their blood. It helps that they get far less screen time than the human characters; normally we only see them as shadows in the background stalking their prey. When they do attack, it’s incredibly vicious and horrifyingly violent (the first large-scale attack on the town is a particular highlight of this film). This viciousness adds to the hopelessness and vulnerability of the humans while making the vampires seem like some of the scariest movie monsters to come along in a while.
If I can find any fault in this movie, it’s that the ending seems a bit contrived and cliché. It doesn’t take too much away from the movie though; to complain about it is really nitpicking more than anything. Overall it’s one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a long time, and easily the best vampire movie to come along in years. I would definitely recommend it, especially since it’s a good alternative to the endless “torture porn” we’ve been seeing from this genre for the last few years.