Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” would have been suitable score music for David Slade’s 30 Days of Night, a stained-in-crimson adaptation of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s graphic novel about vampires overrunning a remote Alaskan town. Barrow, the U.S.’s northernmost town, spends 30 days each year drenched in darkness and completely cut off from the outside world by a massive blizzard, thereby making it the ideal killing ground for an enormous pack of vampires compelled to feed on human flesh. Slade’s film envisions these monsters (led by Danny Huston’s merciless, speaking-in-tongues nosferatu) as feral animals, a conception that—along with a plot that revolves around people holed up in abandoned houses while undead creatures roam the empty streets—pushes things into violent, hardcore territory all too similar to Danny Boyle’s zombie-outbreak flick 28 Days Later and its 2007 sequel. This resemblance is furthered by the director’s decision to shoot all intense action in frantically shaky, semi-incoherent close-ups, though Slade occasionally puts his own stamp on the material, most noticeably with a chilling aerial image of a chaotic street scene and his preference for compositions in which the vampires—gaunt figures with black eyes, blood-swathed mouths, and slack-jawed looks prone to erupting in ferocious howls—lurk ominously, out of focus, in his frame’s background.
As the Gary Cooper-ish town sheriff tasked with keeping a group of survivors alive, Josh Hartnett serviceably embodies determined grittiness. Furthermore, the script gives his frosty relationship with fire marshal ex-wife Stella (Melissa George) a compelling obliqueness by hinting, through un-emphasized narrative incidents and offhand comments never fully elaborated upon, at procreation tensions as the root of their problems. Where 30 Days of Night stumbles, however, is in properly establishing its milieu, the introductory scenes in which we glimpse the daily routine of this unique community all too quickly jettisoned in favor of rampant slaughter. And while Slade confirms (after the sleek but specious Hard Candy) that he knows how to position a camera, he never infuses his tale with any sense of real consequence, killing characters off one by one and indulging in one supremely nasty (and gratuitous) decapitation without ever plumbing intimated moral dilemmas that might have truly turned this carnage horrifying.