Barrows, Alaska, is just settling down for a month-long winter’s night. Many of the residents leave for the dark period, but those who remain encounter a series of strange crimes (all the cell phones in town being stolen and melted, for instance). It turns out that the incidents are the work of a man preparing the way for an invasion of vampires. After all, what better hunting ground than a town with no day? Josh Hartnett leads a dwindling band who hunker down and struggle against overwhelming odds.
Faithfully transcribing Steve Niles’ graphic novel to the screen, this is an enormous breath of fresh air in a horror market dominated by poor remakes of Asian films and tired franchises. The opening shots are breathtaking in their beauty, simultaneously (and appropriately) echo Nosferatu and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. Those are the films that are the spiritual forefathers of this one, which melds the atmospheric chill of the latter with the thoroughly horrible vampires of the former. There is nothing glamorous about these vampires. They are completely vicious, ghastly creations, and are thus the first truly frightening vampires to grace theatrical screens in many and many a year. But as unappealing as its monsters are, the film is nonetheless filled with images of beauty as breathtaking as it is terrible. An overhead shot of the town under siege is a perfect example, and demonstrates a real commitment to the art of horror on the part of the filmmakers. If the sense of hopelesness and dread can’t fully be sustained for the length of the film, this is nonetheless one of the most effective and gorgeously crafted horror films in recent memory.
Brien Reitzell’s magnificent score is the perfect complement to the dark-yet-lovely images, and the 5.1 track does wonders with it, instantly submerging the audience in a swirling atmosphere of ominous tones. The environmental effects are convincing, and the left-right separation of the sound is spectacular. Wonderful stuff all around.
I mentioned above how stunning the opening shots are. Equally stunning is the way they show off the transfer. The theatrical experience is pretty much perfectly replicated here, with bleeding-edge clarity, dark yet sumptuous colour tones (and yes, I say sumptuous even though most colours other than red have been leeched from the palette), and wonderful blacks. Grain is not an issue. This is one spiffy-looking disc.
Hartnett, co-star Melissa George and producer Rob Tapert team up for the commentary. The absence of both creator/co-screenwriter Niles and director David Slade is to be regretted, but the trio do a creditable job. Eight featurettes (“Pre-Production,” “Building Barrow,” “The Look,” “Blood, Guts & The Nasty #@$&!” “Stunts,” “The Vampire,” “Night Shoots” and “Casting”) add up to a 50-minute, fairly detailed documentary. More grimness is present in the first episode of the anime Blood +, presented here as an extra, and, of course, an inducement to buy that series’ DVD. A batch of trailers fulfills a similar function.
Take that, Anne Rice! The horror genre is reclaiming the vampire from your emo meanderings.