Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior
30 Days of Night holds a special place in my heart and my personal cinema-going history. In 2007, I turned 15, and 30 Days of Night was the first 15-rated film I saw legally. I proudly showed my Validate UK card when asked by the cashier and sauntered into the screen like I owned the place. I sat down, popcorn and medium coke in hand, ready to be scared shitless in a completely legal, cinematic manner. My mum then also walked in and sat next to me, equally prepared to be scared shitless. It was a mother-son cinema trip that neither of us has ever forgotten.
Josh Hartnett stars as Eben Oleson, a sheriff of a small town in the northernmost point of the United States, Barrow, Alaska. Every year, the town endures the titular 30 days of night; a month-long period of perpetual night-time (scientifically referred to as a polar night, it’s an actual thing!). The majority of its small number of residents leave Barrow for this month, but a select few remain. Seeing such an opportunity, a clan of vampires move into the town, taking the chance to have a month-long buffet. Eben, his estranged wife Melissa, and other locals are left to fight for survival against the vampiric onslaught.
To put it bluntly, 30 Days of Night fucked me up. Going into the film, I knew it was a horror film; I enjoy horror films, but I am susceptible to being easily scared. I can very safely say that 30 Days of Night is the scariest film I’ve seen in the cinema. In part, I’d but the scare factor down to the total surprise of how unrelentingly brutal the film is. It’s as scary as it is violent. I have a high threshold for what I find difficult to watch, but the final act of this film has several key moments that make me wince even today having watched the film countless times. I got the DVD for my birthday the following year which was rated 18; I’m absolutely convinced the BBFC mis-rated 30 Days of Night for its cinematic release. I have seen far, far less violence in 18-rated horrors. Consider that your warning – 30 Days of Night is not for the faint-hearted.
What really sets 30 Days of Night apart as an elite horror film is in its execution. With David Slade at the helm, the film has a reliably stylish edge to it. At the time, Slade was a relative unknown having mainly directed music videos and made his film directing debut the previous year with 2006’s Hard Candy. Since then, he has gone onto direct The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (the best of the series), and several episodes of highly regarded TV shows like Breaking Bad, Black Mirror, and multiple episodes of Hannibal. If you’ve seen Hannibal – if you haven’t, what is wrong with you? – Slade is responsible for the Season 2 finale, Mizumono. Yes, that one.
Slade’s style is apparent from the get-go, making the freezing temperatures of the town feel like they’re creeping into your living room with extreme close-ups of the characters struggling to deal with the cold while playing hide and seek from hungry vampires. In arguably the film’s defining sequence, the vampires are finally let loose by their leader, Marlow (Danny Huston), and they ravage the town in dutifully violent fashion. Slade and his cinematographer, Jo Willems, don’t leave any stone unturned, and present us with an abundance of gunshots, neck bites, blood clouds. A feast of human destruction through the gaze of a man who knows how to shoot action sequences. The cherry on top of this delicious sequence is a glorious top-down shot of the town, bodies and blood spillages lining the snowy streets of Barrow. 30 Days of Night is a feast for the senses.
Continuing the barrage of praise, the film has a memorable collection of characters at its disposal. Hartnett is great as the quiet sheriff capable of decapitating anyone in his path to survival, but the stars of the show are Ben Foster and Mark Boone Junior. Foster and Junior give their characters a kooky edge as the mysterious tourist and the local headcase, respectively. Foster deploys an other-worldly accent as his character’s origins remain unclear for much of the film, and Junior is just happy to get down to it and blow some vampires to smithereens. Junior has one of the film’s many defining action sequences, culminating in his creative use of a tractor with a giant tree chainsaw on the end of it. Yes, really, and it’s awesome.
30 Days of Night isn’t perfect; it has its fair share of horror clichés under its belt that feel a little bit like they’re working through a checklist of horror beats in order to move their characters into place for the finale, and the film does jump through the 30 days at will that may make you wonder how they went through an 8 day stretch unscathed, but those are fairly small gripes to have with such an entertaining, terrifying thrill ride of a film.
30 Days of Night is awesome. It makes vampires scary again, it has a great cast, it has an engaging story, and it has more than its fair share of fantastic horror and action sequences to quench any thirst for blood you may have. This is one of my favourite horror films of all time, and it’s on Netflix! I wholly recommend this as a film to watch in the final few days of Halloween season.