On TV tonight, I came across 30 Days of Night. Now I haven’t been remotely interested in the film back when it was in the theatres. But since many people have named it as an example of “vampires done right” (as opposed to Twilight, which is vampires done wrong for a certain crowd), I figured I ought to take a look out of academic interest.
The premise, vampires attack an isolated town in Alaska during the polar night, is good. But that’s really all the film has got going for it. Because 30 Days of Night is a terrible film. For starters, the vampires in 30 Days of Night no more adhere to the traditional “rules” of vampirism (most of which were made up by Bram Stoker anyway) than do those in Twilight. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are probably as many different types of vampires as there are vampire novels, films, TV shows.
What many people seemed to enjoy about 30 Days of Night is that its vampires are not sexy and unabashed monsters. To those viewers, unsexy monsters are a return to “proper” vampire form and a reaction against what they believe to be the defanging and neutering of vampires by the unholy trinity of Anne Rice, Buffy and Twilight. In fact, I recall reading an interview with one of the creators of the comic 30 Days of Night, in which he explicitly spoke out about vampires being “neutered” by the likes of Twilight. Of course, vampires have been portrayed as sexy since the 19th century and they haven’t been unambiguous monsters since the 1960s, so this whole “back to basics” approach is sort of missing the point. Still, considering the variety of approaches to the vampire trope these days, there is certainly room for an approach that views vampires as ugly, unsexy monsters.
The vampires in 30 Days of Night are undoubtedly monsters. However, there is very little original about them. In fact, they seem more like stand-ins for zombies than like proper vampires. If not for the vampires’ sensitivity to light, this could have been just another zombie film. And the plot progresses very much like a typical zombie flick, too. The zombies – pardon – vampires stalk the survivors, the survivors don’t act particularly smart, one by one is bitten and infected, there are some pseudo-heartwrenching scenes of “Oh my God, so and so has been bitten and now we must kill him/her.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a zombie movie, if zombies float your boat (they don’t float mine). But don’t make a zombie film and call them vampires.
And 30 Days of Night isn’t even a good example of zombies – pardon, vampires playing “And then there were none”. Because in order for that sort of set-up to work, the viewer has to care about the characters and give a damn whether they get eaten/turned or not. The characters in 30 Days of Night, however, are complete and utter cyphers. In fact, the only difference between the human and the vampire characters is that the latter eat people and the former don’t, because neither vampires nor humans have any personality to speak of. Consequently, I didn’t give a damn whether anybody on screen became vampire fodder. I couldn’t even tell most of them apart, I couldn’t remember the names of anyone except the two main characters (the local sheriff and his wife) and I only remembered their names because the names of these two characters are repeated about 300 times in the dialogues.
So in short, it’s a dreadful film. The vampires are zombies, the characters are cyphers, there is a lot of unnecessary nastiness, e.g. someone killing his family so the vampire zombies won’t get them and then failing to kill himself. The plot is full of holes, the people often act like idiots (injecting yourself with some random person’s blood is a very stupid idea and has a very high chance of making you ill. It does, however, not turn you into a vampire), the heroic self-sacrifice at the end, complete with suicide by sunrise is predictable as hell.
Yet if you take a look at the comments at IMDB, you’ll see that a lot of people praised this utter turd of a film to high heavens and that the exact things I hated about this film (mindless violence, monstrous zombie-like vampires, a stupid plot designed to maximize death and destruction) were the very things those commenters enjoyed.
I guess this film and its inexplicable popularity is yet more evidence that I am inexorably drifting away from the SFFH community. If I was ever part of it in the first place, that is.