There are now two primary camps in the horror film genre which often compete for moviegoers. One is the sadistic torture-ridden death-fests that the Saw and Hostel movies have popularized. The other is the action-horror film, something which has grown popular as well through The Hills Have Eyes films and some of the better made Asian horror-film remakes.
30 Days of Night, a vampire movie adapted from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's graphic novel of the same name, fits in with the second category, as a gory burst of razor-sharp filmmaking, lean scriptwriting and decent performances.
Night chronicles the 30 days of darkness that descend upon an Alaskan town in the heart of winter; as soon as the last ray of light disappears, a cadre of vicious vampires descends upon the village and commences to terrorize and raze the town. The cast of Night is not remarkable, and in some cases even squanders the talents of some of its notable performers.
Josh Hartnett, never one to entirely impress, delivers a workmanlike performance, going through the motions of the stoic hero devolving into an axe-wielding goon in order to quell the madness that springs up around him. Ben Foster, who just a month ago amazed with his standout performance in 3:10 to Yuma, gives a greasy and ham-fisted performance in Night as a whiny scout for the vampires. And Danny Huston, a veteran actor who plays the leader of the vampire clan, works his best within a script that squanders one of his greatest assets: his nuanced and thick-throated voice, which is rammed into a misbegotten vampire dialect that does more to break up the film's well-directed tension than anything else.
Director David Slade, whose previous film was the brutally intense thriller Hard Candy, works his considerable talents and turns out some surprisingly strong results. In Night, Slade infuses his personal stylistic propensities into what could have been a generically poor adaptation of a graphic novel classic. A hyper-kinetic sense of motion, superb use of silhouettes, and a sumptuous eye for a well-framed shot are all used effectively once again in this movie, reminding moviegoers that horror films, when not raising an audience's haunches, can engage their eye in the interim.
30 Days of Night, in the end, isn't anything truly remarkable. The story isn't surprising, nor does it aspire to try anything new with the genre beyond what Templesmith and Niles did in their work. Slade is able to push through his distinctive vision and give the movie an artistic edge, thoroughly and continuously balancing effective scares with moments of subtle and appropriate style. While the acting is comparable to other horror films that attempt to combine terrors with some semblance of real characters (while others, like the Saw films, have thrown out the concept of acting altogether), the script doesn't aide in the endeavor, creating some unsustainable and inauthentic relationships in the film.
Still, the pacing in Night is sound, the setting is used as effectively as in the source material, and there is enough vampiric gore to satisfy. 30 Days of Night, the movie, may not push boundaries like the graphic novel did, but is still a smart and deftly-made film.