30 Days of Night: Dark Days Review
If you’re reading this review then surely you must know about the first movie, 30 Days of Night. If you don’t, you’re going to come across a few spoilers in this review. Originally it started life as a failed film pitch, which was rejected by Studios across the board. So they made it into a graphic novel, apparently for free (I’m assuming it was a commission-based project, not entirely unpaid). The story was very clever in initial concept, set within the small Alaskan town of Barrow, during the winter when – for a month – there’s no sunlight. This, of course, makes it prime hunting ground for vampires, a group of which decide to lay siege on Barrow, with plans to eradicate the town and leave no trace that any vampires were ever there in the first place, all before the sun rises in 30 days. The inhabitants are taken by surprise, and the select few survivors tough it out in confined spaces as they wait for the days to pass. Led by a separated husband-and-wife pair of sheriffs, Eben and Stella, the story follows the group as they evade the vampires and try to figure out a way to strike back.
Needless to say, the graphic novel was a massive success, spawning over half a dozen sequels. Of course that made the Film Producers sit up and take notice and, before you knew it, the very same guys who were saying no, were now greenlighting a cinematic adaptation. Enter 30 Days of Night, the movie, which starred Josh Harnett and Melissa George in the lead roles of the estranged husband-and-wife sheriffs, and with Danny Huston as the powerful leader of the vampires. Made on a relatively meagre budget of only $30 Million, it stylishly presented the intriguing, atmospheric story – which offered a nice twist on the burgeoning vampire horror sub-genre, but mainly felt original in terms of location – and it also stayed fairly faithful to the material (although that also meant staying true to the silly, pointless gimmick of the story taking place over 30 days – something which feels totally irrelevant to the movie as, without the time-codes, all of the events feel like they could have taken place over the course of a couple of days). With proper graphic gore, and some nice, tense set-pieces, it was a much better Alaska-based graphic novel adaptation than the lacklustre Kate Beckinsale vehicle, Whiteout, and a very enjoyable – if quite dark – movie.
The sequel, Dark Days, continues the story: A year after the bloody horrors that devastated the town of Barrow, survivor Stella has moved to Los Angeles and is feeling the trauma of the memories of what happened to her husband. In a world that still refuses to believe vampires actually exist, she feels alone and lost, despite her own personal attempts to reveal the truth. But when given the opportunity to get revenge on the vampire queen Lilith, who sent the group to attack Barrow, she joins forces with a small team of vampire-hunters and goes looking for vengeance. And redemption.
Made for a much smaller budget, with subsequently less location shots, less extravagant effects and a less high-profile cast, there is already talk that – if it is successful enough – further STV instalments will be produced based on the other novels in the series. But is this first sequel actually any good?
Well the short answer is yeah. They really have done a wonderful job with the budget: the vampires look suitably vampiric (as per the first movie) – the burning vampire effects in particular standing up to scrutiny; and they even manage to pull off a fairly elaborate vampire rejuvenation sequence, which works well as a twisty plot development. Sure, the sets are smaller, and less lavish, but since the setting is completely different, you largely accept these potential deficiencies. And there are still a couple of particularly well-chosen locations – including Lilith’s Gothic lair. The horror is handled quite well – they even manage to (reasonably) convincingly show a man’s head get caved in – and, whilst much of the action is shot in the darkness (to reduce the need for effects, no doubt), there are a couple of nice set-pieces: including a fun sequence where the team shoot holes in the doors to shine light on the area and protect them against the vampires, which culminates in a nice explosion, a quality slo-mo vampire burn and a stylish little flashback for Stella, all adding to the above-average feel of the proceedings.
Of course, if you’ve read the first graphic novel, or seen the first movie, then you know that any sequel could (barring contrived plot twists) only follow one of the two lead characters: Stella. And when Dark Days was pitched for a movie adaptation, it ended up being made as a straight-to-home-video production. Melissa George was set to return as Stella (she’s not making that many huge movies at the moment, even if Triangle was quite good, twisty fun) but scheduling conflicts saw her replaced by Kiele Sanchez, an extremely hot and feisty young newcomer who was great in the underrated (again twisty) thriller A Perfect Getaway, which also starred Milla Jovovich and Timothy Olyphant. I do think Melissa George was better – she’s always managed to provide a satisfying blend to tough determination and angst-ridden vulnerability – but Sanchez gives us an enjoyable alternative interpretation of Stella (even if she’s quite stoic for the most part), and the whole movie kick-starts with a clip of the ending to the last movie (and voice-over recap) where Sanchez has been shot in a replacing scene to establish her as the new Stella. Although it still takes a while to get used to, this initially helps with any trouble you may have in associating her character with the Melissa George one.
Amongst the others we get involved in this piece, there’s Lost’s Harold Perrineau, 24’s Rhys Coiro and Playboy Playmate Diora Baird (from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), as well as the L-Word’s Mia Kirshner (who was also in 24, and also in another vampire production, The Vampire Diaries), but only a couple of them get any kind of real screentime – let alone character development. Still, they largely suit their roles, with Kirshner on particularly sexy femme fatale form as the villain of the piece, Lilith; and Coiro getting to revel in his role as an interestingly shady vampire killer (even if he doesn’t look all that convincing with an assault rifle).
With an interesting, and sufficiently well-thought-out plot – that largely follows the events of the graphic novel Dark Days including, as key facets: the opening lecture, the dark FBI Agent, Lilith (although the sub-plot about the deal struck between Lilith and Stella has unfortunately been removed), as well as Stella’s involvement with the vampire-killing team – there really is very little to complain about when it comes to this production. It knows its restrictions, does its best with the budget, tells a reasonable story and stays pretty true to the source material. Add to that a reasonable cast doing some nice work with the limited script, and some fairly nice effects, and you have a pretty watchable low budget sequel. Of course I am saying that in the knowledge that it is still a DTV production, so certainly does not compete to anything of any bigger budget (like the original), but it is still – without a doubt – one of the best DTV movies that I have ever come across. Alongside the similar-quality The Descent: Part 2, the creation of these respectable productions certainly bodes well for DTV sequels on the whole, which have generally always had an awful rep.
And really, in the case of this franchise, the only one of the 30 Days novels that required a full, theatrically-release big(ish) budget production was the first one – the rest are less original, and more ‘standard’ vampire narratives, for which a decent DTV rendition (like this one) will just about suffice. I really hope Dark Days does well enough on home release to warrant them proceeding with further DTV instalments, not least because of the intriguing twist ending to this first sequel (which fans of the book will know all about already), but also because there are plenty more books upon which to base further instalments, and plenty of fans who would surely like to have them see the light of day.