Sunday, October 31, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 30: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

*********************** Spoiler Warning ***********************
This movie is a sequel and discussion of it requires references to the ending of the original movie

If you haven’t seen 30 Days of Night, then you’re a gobshite, but you can read the review here so that might help a little. Gobshite!


Cinema, like professional sport, is cursed by the commercial forces at play in the industry. Films have investors who front the large sums needed to produce and distribute the movies and these investors don’t care about the material, they care about making money. In mainstream Hollywood, everyone is in it for the money. So if cinema is cursed, certain parts of it are more cursed then others. Horror probably comes off the worse (don’t bother to even think about pornography – that sector is a pure cash cow and no-one wants stories, characters, or any other artistic merit in those movies anyway). When a good horror film is released and goes on to be successful the pressures for a sequel are huge, but the expected return on a sequel is higher than the original because, as far as the investors are concerned, with a sequel you’re investing in an established brand, there’s less risk as the fans of the first are almost guaranteed to see the follow-up. For smaller production companies this puts a ton of pressure on everyone concerned to generate a big return in cash terms, so the easiest thing to do is cut the cost of the production down to the bone so that even if the film doesn’t do well at the box office there’ll still be a profit for the nice folks who paid for it.

Cutting costs on a movie production is a savage business. High paid, big star actors are definitely out, then goes the effects budget, next locations are trimmed down and filming only occurs in tax efficient places (shit-loads of films and TV programmes are made in Vancouver, Canada for this very reason – it looks like any American city and costs fuck all to film there), then the production crew suffers from the cuts, and finally the writing and directing team are selected from the bottom of the barrel. The ultimate tragedy of the movie business is that it’s a business at all. However, the lowest budget films out there can be surprisingly good, some go on to be legendary successes. El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez’s first film) was made for less than $10,000 as were Pi, and Primer, both brilliant sci-fi pieces. There have been many low budget horrors, some great and some shite, so the genre is always prepared to suffer at the hands of the accountants, remembering that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Like Vampires.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days picks up the story of Stella and Eben Oleson (Olemaun in the comics) right where the first movie left them – sitting in the snow watching the sun rise after the vampire attack on Barrow, Alaska. The rising sun kills Eben as he’d become a vampire in order to save Stella and the few other survivors leaving Stella to face the world alone, a world she knows is inhabited by vampires.

Several months after the attack on Barrow, Stella has taken to travelling around the country in an effort to educate people about the existence of vampires. Her efforts have been less than successful despite the assistance she’s been getting from an unknown source that sends her information and seems to know accurate details about the Barrow attack. Arriving in Los Angeles, Stella gives a lecture to a disbelieving audience about vampires. Sick of the mocking response she keeps getting she’s decided to out some vampires and does so by switching on lights that mimic sunlight, causing several members of the crowd to reveal themselves as vamps by burning up in front of everyone.

This stunt attracts the attention of a small band of vampire hunters who’ve been working the area and have heard of Stella and the things that had happened in Alaska. They convince Stella to join them when they explain that they have a half-turned vampire working with them to provide inside data on the vampires activities and, more importantly, how the vampires are organised. The half-vamp turns out to be the source of the information Stella has been receiving.

The vampires are organised into a simple structure with a queen ruling them and the group of vampire hunters plan to kill her in order to throw the remaining vampires into chaos. Each of the vampire hunters have personal experience with the vampire menace and have all lost loved ones to the creatures, but their hatred and passion doesn’t mean that they are capable of successfully fighting vampires, especially not their Queen, the enigmatic and powerful Lilith, who has laid her plans carefully and positioned her spies well.

So that's what happened to Sinead O'Connor!

The original 30 Days of Night is the best example of a modern vampire film I can think of. The vampires are terrifyingly monstrous and the predicament of the town of Barrow is a well executed horror in every sense. Any sequel would have a hard job keeping up the standard the original set and sadly Dark Days doesn’t come close.

All of the budget problems that can damage a film seem to have been thrown at Dark Days and the resulting movie was released straight to video this year. None of the original cast return for Dark Days (so I guess I was right to question whether Melissa George would be right for a sequel when I reviewed 30 Days back in 2008) which immediately puts the film onto a poor footing, especially as the opening scene of the film is a re-shot version of the final scene of the original with two new actors for Stella and Eben.

The actors who do feature in the film are from the bargain basement of jobbing TV actors and they’ve all turned up in one episode of every US TV show going; I imagine they all knew each other from when they met on the set of Law and Order, or Criminal Minds, or Castle, or whatever. The actual production was obviously done on the cheap, with the visuals and editing suffering the most. Music was scrimped on so badly that the score is noticeable more by its absence in scenes then its content, the lack of music to build tension in certain scenes is so bad that you can’t feel fear for the characters and bits of the movie that were meant to be creepy are just dull.

The one thing they did right in making Dark Days was to bring in Steve Niles to co-write the screenplay as he’s the writer of the original comics upon which 30 Days is based. However, for some reason never explained, the story in Dark Days is wildly different from the comic, with only the very beginning and the gist of the ending getting into the movie. Dark Days the comic is not as good as the original but it would still have made a better film then the one that made it onto DVD. Dark Days is, unfortunately, a fairly stock vampire hunting story but not a really bad one just not as good as it should have been. The twists and turns are reasonable and the character of Lilith is intriguing as is the FBI agent who wants to be a vampire in order to avoid dying from the terminal illness he has.

I wish Dark Days was better, but I understand why it isn’t, and I am glad it wasn’t worse.

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