30 Days of Night, like many quality horror movies, is not a horror movie so much as a survival movie. This is a trope more often found in zombie films, like Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later, than in vamp flicks: the humans must band together to fight the outside menace, usually hiding out in microcosms like isolated farmhouses or malls. Their survival depends on the strength of their community, and usually on one forceful leader who makes hard choices for the rest of the gang. The tension comes from internal and external forces both and often you find yourself forgetting about the monsters outside, because the ones inside are so fascinating.
What better location for this sort of drama than Barrow, Alaska, cut off almost entirely from the outside world in the depths of winter? And what better monster for such a setting than vampires, whose reign of terror in movies is usually limited severely by the sunlit hours?
The movie works in part because the vampires are Scary Monsters and not Sexy Goths. I did get briefly sidetracked entertaining myself with the idea of Anne Rice's vampires mincing around Alaska. Velvet and lace meets a full line of Carhart products. Does this Gore-Tex go with my corset? Alas, such fashion victimization was not to be, but that's all right; the grotesque, inhuman creatures in this movie were much more terrifying. They hiss and squeal gutterally, and when they attack they mean business. No drink-of-me-and-live-forever foibles here. No romantic hypnotism.There's not any camp to this movie, not any wackiness. Just terrifyingly hungry vampires.
The movie makes great use of Alaska. While the versimilitude department could probably poke several holes in it (Barrow apparently only has one or two Eskimos therein, Josh Hartnett is nowhere near hairy enough to be an Alaskan man, and honestly, we keep our oil up there; you think no one would notice the town's shut down?), the panoramas and sense of isolation are spot on. It's a movie that knows what to do with quiet, which is increasingly rare in an age of soundtrack abuse and thumping heavy metal behind elaborate fight scenes. Oh, don't worry, elaborate fight scenes there are; but the crux of the film is the increasing strain of trying to guess who's going to make it to day thirty. Also, this is the movie that dares to answer the question: what happens when you use bear mace on a vampire? Answer: the same thing that happens when you use bear mace on a bear. You piss it off and fail to slow it down much at all.
This movie has crazy people, guns, bear traps, oil, flannel, alcoholics, pot-growing grandmas, and an entirely new standard of seasonal affective disorder. If that doesn't make the folk back home proud, I don't know what will. B+.