Friday, 1 October 2010

It's Dark Days as Stella strikes back...kinda.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days

30 Days of Night: Dark Days is the sequel to David Slade’s excellent 2007 adaptation of the popular IDW graphic novel 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. 30 Days of Night told the tale of a band of feral vampires who attack the isolated Alaskan town of Barrow after the sun sets for a month. The original graphic novel was a big hit in 2002 spawning sequels and offshoots that are still ongoing. Dark Days was the first sequel published and told of how vengeance craving Barrow survivor Stella Olemaun heads to LA and writes about what really happened to her town, using her book and its related publicity as an attempt to expose the truth about vampires amongst us.

In 2007 Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures produced the movie version of 30 Days of Night starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George and directed by David (Hard Candy) Slade. Though in my opinion fangtastic, it was given a middling critical and commercial reception upon release. But despite not being a big commercial hit, the powers that be have decided there is still on screen cash to be made from Niles’ nasty blood hunters…as long as it doesn’t cost them very much to produce.

So welcome to the movie sequel: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days.

And guess what?

It hasn’t cost them very much to produce.

This is a direct to DVD sequel shot in Canada (where else) with almost no budget and a recast female lead. Out goes the always good, always cute Melissa George as vengeful Stella to be replaced by Kiele (A Perfect Getaway, Lost) Sanchez. And to be fair, Sanchez is fine, even if it is a strictly one note performance - all scowly and sullen and not saying much at all. But that’s okay cuz in this story Stella is a severely damaged character hell bent on doing lots of damage of her own to the vamps of the world.

Now, I haven’t read Dark Days for a while, so I went back and quickly skimmed through it after watching this film. What I discovered is that the film’s story is a fair bit different. It’s simpler, less character based, more of a straight forward, slightly dull, overly familiar vampire hunt/stop-their-next-evil-plan type story. It’s very basic A to B to C plotting broken up by a couple of okay fights, a few nicely gory deaths and a bit of morose bathroom sex before ending with a girl on girl smack down as Queen Vamp Lillith (Mia Kirshner wasted in a nothing role) meets Stella for what is a (literal) bloodbath finale. Elements from the book are present in the film if pretty thinly sketched: FBI Agent and vampire wannabe Norris who gets his undead wish and causes Stella plenty of grief; the vampire Queen Lillith; the ‘good’ vampire Dane who Stella allies with. But these elements are used differently and less effectively in the movie with Dane being possibly the biggest disappointment. He is potentially the most interesting new character and yet he is rapidly sidelined and is only in two or three scenes. Instead, what we get is more focus on the small group of human vampire hunters who work with Dane and who recruit Stella. Problem is they are a pretty bland, useless, forgettable bunch. But in the end, as we would expect, it all comes down to Stella. It is our mightily pissed off heroine who must stand alone and defeat the nefarious Lillith’s evil plan, a plan which involves yet another vampiric maritime trip up north.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days is an okayish direct to DVD effort. It's better than most of its low budget ilk but is not a patch on David Slade’s excellent original. It's solidly directed and does manage to look pretty good despite its obvious low budget. I liked the photography with its gritty washed out days and sodium yellow lit nights. And the film also has a solid central performance from Ms Sanchez and some rather nice blood and gore to excite our interest. But what lets Dark Days down is the obvious cheapness of the whole affair, its pacing problems (it gets rather slow in parts) and the overly familiar and predictable storytelling. What is also rather annoying is that Steve Niles co-wrote this movie with director Ben Ketai. Niles could and should have done a better job of adapting his own work as this flat, formula script couldn't have taken him more than a few hours to bash out. C’mon, Steve, try harder next time. (2/5)

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