We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The idea behind 30 Days of Night, a vampire movie based on a graphic novel, is head-smackingly brilliant. What better place for creatures who feast by night and disintegrate by day to go party but Barrow, Alaska, which gets hit with an approximately month-long period of darkness every year? (Well, OK, they’d get more mileage out of Antarctica, but that wouldn’t be giving our protagonists very good odds.) It’s a pity, then, that director David Slade wasted the opportunity and turned the book’s story into a horror film that’s not frightening or creepy or even terribly cool—the best adjective for it is matter-of-fact. Josh Hartnett—there’s a negative already—plays Eben, the town sheriff, who’s on the outs with his cop wife, Stella (Melissa George). But she’s forced to work with him when a bizarre stranger (Ben Foster) shows up at a diner and taunts Eben with vague comments such as, “So sweet, sooo helpless about what is coming,” and it becomes clear that the residents have more to worry about than SAD. The fact that Slade, who last directed the 2005 thriller Hard Candy, doesn’t rely on cheap scares initially is an asset, with shadowy figures, menacing sounds, and omens such as severed dogs’ heads establishing the creepiness. But then that restraint quickly becomes dull: Several tense moments end in action that’s too drawn-out to jolt, which leaves you with little more than uninspired chase-catch-attack sequences and strategizing-in-attics scenes ripped from 28 Days/Weeks Later. And the victims themselves are as colorless as the vampires’ skin, unless you really care about Eben and Stella’s troubled marriage or the confused old man who’s shamelessly played for sentimentality. As for the undead themselves, at least they’re stylin’, partial to black overcoats and eye makeup and led by a suave Danny Huston. The decision to let the vampires speak to one another in their own language, however, cuts their slickness a bit: It may be OK to chat in what sounds like particularly phlegmy German when you’re talking about, say, mauling some dumb human. But asides such as, “We should have come here ages ago!” are more appropriate for Dracula: Dead and Loving It than a serious graphic-novel adaptation.