When "30 Days of Night" hit cinemas in 2007, David Slade's adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel series by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith caught the moment -- arriving just as the vampire genre was seemingly being rethought and revitalised, and becoming one of the first examples of what has since become a flurry of vampire-related genre activity. The film was a tense, claustrophopic seige thriller, with the vampires depicted as animalistic, lightining-quick predators with deadened, black, shark-like eyes and a spine-chilling rallying scream. It told the story of the Alaskan town of Barrow, which comes under sustained attack from the bloodsucking invaders just as it's about to enter an extended, month-long winter without any daylight at all to afford the inhabitants the chance to escape or regroup. But three years later, "30 Days of Night: Dark Days", a much lower budgeted sequel, co-written by Niles and director Ben Ketai, comes at a time when the whole vampire genre seems already to have rather played itself out and feels rather more anaemic in character. Even though it thankfully eschews the whole teen romance thing which has, for some reason, virtually taken over the vampire mythos since the Twilight franchise took off -- the black eyes, the moody, sultry poses and the leather-clad Goth look have now become as tiresome a set of clichés as the rampaging zombie has in the contemporary horror film, with this straight to DVD sequel doing little at first to subvert any of this. Neither does this follow-up have the advantage of the simplicity of it's predecessor's siege storyline, and the uniqueness of its isolated setting. However, once we set aside any notion that we should expect anything at all original from this effort, Ketai and Niles do actually deliver a fairly entertaining slice of gritty, noirish action horror with some punchy set-pieces, gruesome flesh-tearing vampire attacks and a bleak outlook which affords it a convincingly potent atmospheric tone.
Despite not having the luxury of any of the main cast from the first movie returning to take up their roles, the film starts where the last left off anyway, with the character Stella Oleson (formally played by Melissa George but now interpreted by Kiele Sanchez) mourning the death of her husband, who sacrificed himself at the end of the last film to save both her and the town. Now it's a year later and the grief-stricken widow has made it her mission in life to expose the truth about what really happened at Barrow. She's written a book (Truth in the Arctic Circle) and taken to the conference circuit to publicise her claims, although, of course, she's treated as a curiosity and just another nut-case. Stella really doesn't care any longer, though. Without her husband, she's bereft and has nothing left to live for. Her campaign is itself practically suicidal: vampires have nests everywhere, and, it becomes evident, can even command the support of non-vampires who are prepared to help them in return for the promise of immortality. This comes to light after Stella attempts to prove the existence of vampires by switching on some ultra violet lights she's had rigged up at the Los Angeles venue where she's giving a talk. For vampires don't like people to know that they exist and one or two of them can always be counted on to turn up wherever she goes to give a lecture -- as her stunt quickly proves!
However, FBI agent Norris (Troy Ruptash) is able to clear away any evidence and takes Stella into custody, where he attempts to frighten her into leaving the area and forget about her mission altogether. It becomes clear that he has dedicated himself to the vampires' cause in the hope that they can 'cure' him of an unspecified terminal illness. Back at her hotel, she runs into a small band of self-proclaimed vampire hunters (Rhyos Coiro, Diora Baird and Harold Perrineau), all of whom have themselves suffered loses at the hands of the undead during their lives. They also have help from a turncoat vampire called Dane (Ben Cotton) who still retains his humanity and lives an isolated twilight existence inside a shuttered book shop. Through him they have learned that all the activities of vampire nests throughout the world are controlled by their queen, known as Lilith (Mia Kirshner) and after a botched mission leads to the death of one of their number (the unfortunate Perrineau, who makes another early exit here, as he did in "Lost"), Stella kicks herself into gear, especially when the group learns that Lilith is planning another midnight feast in the Arctic when the sun next goes down for a month, and is readying to set sail on a giant supply ship full of hungry vampires. Knowing this,the survivors set out on a suicidal mission to single-handedly destroy Lilith and her ship full of followers.
In successfully imitating the earthy noir stylishness of the graphic novel on which this sequel is based, director Ben Ketai, cinematographer Eric Maddison and production designer Geoff Wallace have actually ended up with a film that looks a lot like just about every other thriller of the last ten years or so -- in other words, with a visual language and a tonal stylishness that echoes that of David Fincher's hugely influential thriller, "Se7en". The colours are a muted and bleached out compliment of tobacco browns, murky greens and sallow yellows; Los Angeles (or rather its cheaper stand-in, Vancouver) is a rainy, desaturated industrial wasteland of deserted, rubbish-strewn streets and derelict construction sites on which you barely ever see anyone but the protagonists, the vampires and their occasional unfortunate victims. Even the title sequence, with its stuttery, frame-hopping visuals and harsh, 'Industrial' pounding soundtrack' is a dead spit. The rain was apparently all real and the film's low budget meant that the locations were as well -- but the look suits the original source material's bleakness and the spiritual desolation of the characters, all of whom are in their various ways seeking death.
Perhaps that explains why the trio of vampire hunters spend so much time bickering and obliviously walking into such obvious traps; although that still doesn't account for how they've managed to survive as long as they have given their utter fecklessness. The film is suitably tense in several of its grimy action sequences and Kiele Sanchez manages to convey her character's internal desolation with sufficient conviction, but there isn't enough time to sketch her new comrades with any believability, especially Diora Baird's character who seems to spend the whole time either sulking or moaning. Troy Ruptash gives a nice slimly performance as the trench coat-wearing human servant of the vampires, Agent Norris; and Mia Kirshner is hideous as the vampire queen Lilith, taking Bathroy-like naked baths in human blood and ordering Norris to tear into a helpless female victim's flesh in order to prove his worth as a vampire.
An unconvincing sexual liaison between Stella and Paul (Rys Coiro) -- the rather tepid leader of the vampire hunters -- is actually setting up the film's ruthlessly black finale, and the guys-on-an-impossible-mission tone of the final half hour regales the viewer with the utter horror of the vampires' almost industrial scale machinery for 'processing' human victims -- with warehouse-sized bleeding bays inside the huge supply ship en route for the Arctic, and what look like giant dishes in which the exsanguinated bodies are positioned in a pool of their own blood. The film cracks along at a good pace and the gory horrors are particularly nasty, displaying a 'torture porn' like obsession with unpleasant disfigurement of the human body: teeth are ripped out, veins sliced open, meat hooks buried in eyeballs and the protagonists even torture one of their vampire enemies for information by strapping him down and flipping on ultra violet lights above him in order to bring him to the edge of disintegration. The revelation that dead vampires who have not been decapitated can still be brought back to life when blood is poured on top of their burnt remains (as was Christopher Lee in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness") turns out to have profound implications for the film's unexpectedly bleak conclusion.
The Blu-ray features a decent enough 1080p high definition transfer and a dynamic 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track in English, Italian and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also included. Standard definition extras are actually pretty thin on the ground, the main one being an audio commentary from director Ben Ketai and producer Rob Tapert who give plenty of information about the shoot. There's a ten minute featurette "The Gritty Realism of Dark Days" which explores the production design of the movie as well as the cinematography, plus a Blu-ray exclusive: an art gallery of original graphic novel artwork which, when you click on an image leads to a one minute capsule piece of Ketai discussing certain aspects of the film and its relationship with the original novel. The BD Live facility turns out to be a letdown, consisting of nothing but a further opportunity for you to access more trailers for upcoming releases.
"30 Days of Night: Dark Days" is well-made but uninspiring; enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. It's worth at least a rental but unlikely to be surging to the top of anyone's list of all time classics any time soon. Yet, in a market saturated with less than pointless zombie fare, that's enough to make it stand out in a rather weak crowd as a notable and quite well executed slab of popularist horror fare.