I went to see this not because I was really dying to see it, having heard that it was fairly lame, but mostly as a get-out-of-the-house type thing on a Sunday where I had nothing else to do. I surely would have been writing reviews on my subway ride downtown, except that someone had stolen my bag containing my word processor—with several reviews on it—on Friday. Clearly, New York City is trying to tell me to move away from here. And I'm listening.
We open on the last day of sunlight in Barrow, Alaska, which we are told is the northernmost town in the United States. Then will follow a month of darkness. Most of the people can't stand the constant darkness, and the town is bustling with people trying to get out, the population dropping from 500 to 150 during that month. And they don't serve liquor that month—can you imagine? Anyway, the one day of sun is filled with gorgeous gray-and-white cloudscapes, enough to make you look forward to a movieful of visual beauty, if nothing else. Don't get your hopes up, cookie.
So we meet Josh Hartnett as Sheriff Eben Oleson. I thought his name was Evan throughout, as that's what it sounds like, but I see that his spelling is just a tad bit more special. This is good, I suppose, as if I knew his name was Eben Oleson I wouldn't be able to stop thinking of 80s electro group Ebn-Ozn and their hit "AEIOU and Sometimes Y." Eben finds a bag full of burnt cellphones—who would DO such a thing?—and is all mystified, and more mystified when he finds that someone has slaughtered all the dogs of some other dude.
Meanwhile, Eben's estranged wife Stella is in town, and trying to be sure to be on that last flight out. She is played by Melissa George, who also graced the catastrophic remake of The Amityville Horror. Upon seeing her in the trailer I thought "Oh good! Eliza Dushku is in a movie! Hartnett and Dushku are going to rock it together!" But no, there is a sad dearth of Dushku, causing me to spend nearly every scene with Melissa thinking how much better it would have been with Eliza—who is at least capable of closing her mouth. More on that later. Anyway, Stella's truck collides, in the absolute middle of nowhere, with this giant chainsaw on a tractor, and she calls Eben to give her a ride to the airport. This is fraught with backstory, and Eben and Stella are married but separated, and he didn't even know she was in town. But there's not much time for that, as soon they find that the town helicopter has been destroyed as well. The first half-hour here is the most interesting, as you have some beautiful visuals and the ominousness of all the transportation and communication being cut off, and once the attacks start, dullness creeps in.
So soon people start getting attacked, and Eben and Stella repair back to the police station, where Eben's little brother Jake and his granny are. There's also this whole new dude in town with hideous teeth that I won't even go into, except to say that he's the one who did all the vampire advance work. Then follows a huge, town-wide vampire rampage, which is not bad, especially in a nice overhead shot which tracks down the street as the entire town population is getting wasted. This is all nice, but you start to wonder: if there are 30 days left, how come the vampires are killing everyone right at the beginning? They're going to get hungry again later. Anyway, within a few minutes the population is reduced from 150 to about 14, and this is precisely when you should leave the theater to go see what else is playing in the multiplex.
So they decide that they have to make it to this attic, where they can hole up for a while. I liked the little scene where Eben and Stella are driving somewhere and the vampires just pick up the whole truck and turn it over. So they make it to the attic and then we have a title: Day 7. So that's just it? They stuck in there for seven days and no vampires tried to attack and they're all just fine? Or is it that the movie has a half-day's worth of story it needs to seemingly spread over the entire month?
So by this time one has noticed that Josh Hartnett is, as usual, really putting a lot into his performance. He seems genuinely upset and disturbed at all the horror he's seeing, as opposed to most horror movies, where people seem to take the violent dismemberments of their friends and loved ones as minor inconveniences, to be gotten over in five minutes or so. One admires Josh's commitment, while at the same time wanting him to save his energies for a better movie. Around this time one has also noticed that it's very difficult to keep track of how many people are still alive, as the movie is filled with instances in which it seems like it's only Eben and Stella left alive, until a few minutes later you find out that not only are there a few more survivors, but they're right there in the room. Also in here one notices that the majority of the town is a big model, and I think that our human characters are just digitally inserted in several scenes. So, fairly clever—I love modelwork. We've also noticed that the movie is extremely gory, as we see several lost limbs and close-up decapitations. And there's always time to chop off a vampire six-year-old's head with three chops of an axe. And we've noticed that the majority of Ms. George's performance consists of staring blankly with her mouth open.
So it's day 18, causing one to think "there's no way they could stay alive that long," which transforms into outright distain by day 27. What are the vampires DOING then? They certainly aren't looking for the survivors, as the movie has set them up as so powerful they certainly would have killed them by now. Maybe they've set up a program of community education classes, or are hosting vampire etiquette seminars. Tupperware parties? We'll never know.
Around this time I went to the bathroom simply to have something to do to break the monotony. The whole mood of the film pervaded reality, as it had gotten pitch-dark at 4:30 pm, was fucking freezing outside, and my multiplex was largely empty, save for people wandering around in a not-un-vampiric manner.
SPOILERS > > >
So soon the streets start filling with oil, as the vamps have punctured the pipeline, and they plan to burn the whole town, make it look like an accident, and move on. Then Josh knows that he can't fight them as a mere human, so he injects himself with vampire blood and starts turning right away. So there's a vampire brawl in which, like much of the film, there's so much skip-frame footage you can't tell at all what's going on. I feel another 20 minutes could have been shaved off this film if only we didn't have so much slow-motion. Anyway, eventually Eben puts his whole fist through the skull of the main vampire—a totally wasted Danny Huston—just like in The Story of Ricky! Then the other vampires, what, just go away? We'll never know, as we never find out. The sun comes up in a matter of minutes later—which makes you wonder why Josh couldn't have just held out another few hours, if he's made it 30 days unscathed. Stella holds him as they watch the sunrise and he turns into a charred log. Guess they won't have to work out those relationship problems after all!
< < < SPOILERS END
It's too bad, because this could have been a halfway-decent movie. And ALL they had to do to make it 50 times more successful is trim off 30 minutes. I don't understand how anyone who saw this movie approved it at this length—and it's only two hours. You could safely cut 30 minutes without losing ANYTHING, as it's all just repetitive attacks anyway, and then the movie would be a tight little punch to the gut, instead of this exercise in tedium. So that really is the main problem. The performances are decent, Hartnett being especially good, the setup is interesting, and the visuals are nice. It's just so damn long you forget about all this and just want it to end.
The other thing the extra length affords you is time to notice that Melissa George never, ever, closes her mouth. I know she probably needs a little extra space to fit those horse teeth in there, but with physical therapy I'll bet she could get those things together—after all, she IS able to pronounce B's and P's. Then it occurred to me—maybe she has some sort of congenital birth defect that actually PREVENTS her from ever closing her mouth, and this is the moment that the Cinema de Merde Melissa George Mouth-Closing Initiative was formed. Please sign our online petition. Nevertheless, as the movie itself becomes more and more devoid of ideas, mentally shouting "SHUT YOUR FUCKIN' MOUTH!" at the screen can provide a way to occupy your time.
This is directed by the guy by David Slade, the guy who directed Hard Candy, which I didn't see, but understand suffers from the same malady of having a good set-up but nothing to do with it, and an extended running time with which to do nothing in. It also bugged me that we never find out where the vampires come from, and where they go. After day 30, they're right out in the elements with no shelter, right? They also don't develop any interesting characteristics while they're around. They just attack and speak vampirese. Which makes you start to wonder, during the considerable free mental time this movie offers, about the stresses of becoming a vampire and having to deal with sudden immortality, facial reconstruction, dental transformation, killing your loved ones for food—AND having to learn a new language? God, being undead is getting to be more of a hassle than it's worth.
I wouldn't. If you do, you can safely walk out after the first 30 minutes. Not much happens after that. And besides, you're busy.