“I never wanted a war. I just wanted people to know what happened here. 98 men, women, children … my husband. And yet no one believed. They rebuilt the town. Life went on. But I was already dead inside. I never wanted a war.”
In October 2007 30 Days Of Night was unleashed at the box office to less than stellar numbers. In fact, the film took in only $39 million off of a $30 million budget. That’s not usually a good sign for any potential franchise. But the film was received very well by the folks who did like it. I was one of those people. I found myself defending the film to a lot of others who were obviously not so impressed with the take on the vampire legend. The film was about a mythical town in Northern Alaska that experiences 30 days of nightfall each winter. The residents either leave or they dig in for the duration of the month-long darkness. As it turns out, the setup was the perfect situation for vampires, who could feast on the remaining citizens without fear of a rising sun putting a wet blanket on their free-for-all picnic. The film followed a few survivors as they fought back against the creatures of the night. It was based on a cult-favorite graphic novel. It all seemed like a pretty solid idea. But it wasn’t the location and month-of-darkness scenario that seemed to turn many horror fans away from the movie. What caused that unfortunate movement was the same thing that I found to be the film’s strength.
The vampires were not attractive or seductive. These weren’t the creatures of teen girls’ lovelorn fantasies. You didn’t want to sleep with these bloodsuckers. These creatures were feral animals. They ripped into the bodies of their victims like sharks on a feeding frenzy. If there really were vampires, this is how I imagine they would more realistically act. A friend was turned off by the idea that these vampires tore into one body and were soon on another, in his eyes, wasting the food along the way. He obviously never saw wild animals caught up in a feeding frenzy. That’s exactly what hunger-crazed beasts do when placed in an arena surrounded by food and joined by the competition of their fellow beasts. These were vampires I could sink my teeth into. Let’s not forget that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not the refined gentleman in an evening coat and cape that movies have depicted since Bela Lugosi brought his own old-world charm to the role in 1931. Stoker’s Dracula was a misshapen bald creature who looked more like a human-bat hybrid than a high-society count. But somewhere along the way we got used to having our vampires civilized and very attractive. 30 Days Of Night tried to change all of that. It wasn’t quite as successful as I might have wished it had been.
A major release sequel was out of the question. The numbers just wouldn’t support it. Most of us fans considered the franchise DOA. Then along comes this direct-to-video release from Sony. But I wasn’t so quick to count my blessings. The sequel doesn’t retain any of the cast or production crew from the first movie. The only connection outside of the title is the participation of Steve Niles, one of the original comic creators, as the screenwriter for the piece. These kinds of things always worry me. They seldom have anything to do with the original story, merely capitalizing on a name. The budgets are always lower, and these things seldom if ever end well for the expectant fans. 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days happens to be that exception that proves the rule.
One character from the original film dominates the new story. Stella, this time played by Kiele Sanchez instead of Melissa George, has left Alaska since that bloodbath last winter. She has made it her mission to try to spread the word, warning others about the vampires. She makes appearances at college campuses and the like, delivering talks on the true story of what happened. Of course, no one believes her. The government has covered up the truth, and even when she traps real vampires and zaps them with an ultraviolet device in front of a crowd, the feds manage to convince the world it was a hoax. It doesn’t help that one Agent Norris (Ruptash) of the feds is helping the vamps in exchange for the Renfield promise of eternal life. After her encounter with the feds, Stella returns to her hotel room to find three people waiting there for her. They are vampire hunters who want to recruit her to their fight. They are led by the half-vampire Dane (Cotton). They know who the Queen vampire is and where the vampires are hiding. They want Stella to join them on their raid against Lilith (Kirshner) and her nest of vampires. They are well-armed and have had experience taking on the creatures of the night. But stuff goes wrong, and it’s going to be up to Stella without the fancy weapons to take Lilith down. And she’d better work fast. The team learns that the vamps are about to attack another Alaska city during the next winter month of night.
Let me just state for the record that Kiele Sanchez is no Melissa George. The character has a whole new feel about her. She’s better suited for this version of Stella, but I wasn’t really all in on the new incarnation of the character. She’s still mourning the loss of her husband, played by Josh Hartnett in the first film. She’s still so distraught that she wears his wedding ring on a chain around her neck. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from having sex with one of the “cute” vampire hunters just a day after meeting him. It’s also a bit unlikely that she would have survived this long against the vampires if she could be surprised so easily by the hunters in her hotel room.
But take those character flaws away and you have a movie that will surprise you. The story is quite compelling. Yeah, Dane kind of reminds us of Blade with that semi-vampire vibe going on. But he doesn’t really do much of the vamp butt-kicking. The vampires are the same wild animals that I loved in the first film. Mia Kirshner is very good as the lead vampire Lilith here. It’s a powerful performance that takes away any lower-budget feel you might have been expecting from this sequel. There’s plenty of action as the team goes up against the vamps. You get some nice explosions and plenty of bodies getting ripped apart. The script isn’t nearly as tight as the original, and there are holes large enough to comfortably navigate a starship through, but the pace and atmosphere more than make up for it. You can’t help but tag along for the ride while giving your brain a rest this time around. This is a step above the usual stuff you get in these situations. It’s actually a pretty entertaining film. More than worth a look if you liked the original even a little bit.
30 Days Of Night: Dark Days is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of 30+ mbps. Part of what made the first film so atmospheric was the cold Alaska location. That’s missing here, so I wouldn’t rank this one near as good in production design. But there are some rather nice set pieces here that reveal themselves quite satisfactorily in the high-definition image presentation. There isn’t near the detail here, but close-ups of the vampires provide some nice shots. Colors are dark, very much like the original film was. Black levels are about average for Blu-ray. I didn’t find any kind of artifact issues or print defects. The original was likely shot on HD video.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 shines throughout the audio presentation. Subs are electric and provide just the right punch of a heartbeat to this lively mix. There are some battle scenes that make incredible use of surrounds. The sound is just as dynamic as many feature films. The ripping apart of bodies is delivered with plenty of ear candy that leaves little to the imagination. The sound is very visceral here and will offer you a tremendous immersive experience throughout. Dialog can be heard at all times, offering solid placement.
There is an Audio Commentary by director Ben Ketai and producer JR Young. The track is quite informative. The two do pat each other on the back a lot, but they do come across as genuine. The track fills in a lot of information from the comics, which is great if you’ve never read them … like me.
Graphic Inspirations – Comic To Film: This feature allows you to view the appropriate comic panels while watching the film.
The Gritty Realism Of Dark Days: (10:07) Cast and crew offer up the traditional lowdown on the film. There are comparisons to both the comic and original comic. You get some nice looks at the production design.
This is a better-than-average ride if you were into the first film. There’s a lot of promise here in the direct-to-video market. There’s a whole world out there with these creatures that I find fascinating. I left this film wanting to know more. You might ask yourself if the animalistic vampires of the first film can survive tepid box office numbers and harsh critics who are too into the Twilight age of vampires. One thing we should know about vampires by now. “They can come back.”