Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two very different vampire movies, part one: 30 Days of Night (David Slade, 2007)

Halloween is fast approaching, so I will be turning my attentions to mostly horror movies for the remainder of the month (not too taxing, I admit). I caught the first showing of 30 Days of Night (one of my 10 to look forward to for the remained of 2007, and I am trying to see all these films in the theater when possible) on Friday before I had to leave town, and I was a little surprised that the theater was way more full than I expected for a 10:30 Friday morning showing. But this movie is, indeed a crowd pleaser based on an ingenious premise (and adapted from a graphic novel which I will now have to read): in Barrow, Alaska, the sun sets for thirty days straight, and the town is left without transportation in or out (the airport is closed and there are no roads) for that entire month. Much of the population seems to leave for Fairbanks or Anchorage for that time, in order to be able to keep working, but some, like the sherriff, Eban (Josh Hartnett), don't have that luxury.

Eban's estranged wife Stella (Melissa George, who is gorgeous and capable) is in town for the Fire Marshal, checking out Barrow's supplies, and unfortunately cannot get a plane out of town in time. When strange things start happening in the town - the power goes out, the phone lines go down, and a creepy stranger (Ben Foster) show up - Eban and Stella go out to check what's going on, only to find that there's a group of animal-like vampires (what they come to realize are vampires, at least) preying on the town, and there's no hope of the people getting help. After the first half hour, when bodies upon bodies are piled up in Barrow (the overhead shots of the snowy town soaked in blood are amazing), the survivors, including Eban, Stella, Eban's little brother, and other assorted townsfolk have to find a way to make it through the entire month; not only are there vampires everywhere, they have to keep themselves warm and fed as well.

Much of the criticism of 30 Days centers around the claim that there's very little character development around the secondary (non-Eban and Stella, mostly) characters, but I don't see this as a flaw at all. Sure, most of the other people are more bodies than characters, but in survival mode as these people are in the purest sense, who is really an engaging character? The characters (including a young woman, a crotchety truck driver, and a senile old man and his son) are not empty shells, but they're not developed because, well, there's no time to develop them while they're trying to stay alive. Plus, since when have we been obsessive about character development in a horror film? Josh Hartnett isn't totally boring, for once, and the other leads are equally good in their roles. Much has been made of Foster's turn as the stranger, which I thought creepy and effective but not transcendent. The vampires are the real stars, however - they are the antithesis of every movie vampire I've ever seen. They're barely human, with almost feline structures to their faces and all pointed teeth. They have their own screeching language, which, I have to agree with other reviewers, translates to some embarrassingly "goth" lines. But they're intimidating because we simply cannot relate to them in any way. Whereas most vampires have some human sense of pity, these creatures do not. They're terrifying.

I truly hated director David Slade's last film, Hard Candy, so I was glad to see this movie have such an energetic yet dark sensibility about it. It's been compared, inevitably, to other graphic-novel-to-film adaptations like Sin City and 300, and while I didn't love this movie like I did those two, as it wasn't nearly as visually innovative, the scenes do often look like they were ripped right from the page of some scary book. If you're looking for something that's not incredibly cerebral, but has its wits about it more than the average horror film, 30 Days of Night is for you.


Up next: a vampire film that's the complete opposite of 30 Days of Night...

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