30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)
Rated R for bloody violence, language and some sexual content
Score: 2 out of 5
The original 30 Days of Night was a fairly slow-moving and vacuous, but stylish and entertaining, vampire film that was elevated by a great setting, lots of visual flair, an ingenious premise, and a solid cast. This cash-in, direct-to-video sequel has almost none of that. Ditching the Alaskan wastes for a fairly bland urban environment, abandoning the unique central conceit that made the first movie so interesting, and recasting the protagonist with a new leading lady who doesn't have half the talent of her predecessor, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days isn't a completely worthless film, but it's one that's been done a lot better before -- hell, I actually watched one of those movies that did it better just last week.
This sequel takes place ten months after the original, with the vampires' rampage in Barrow, Alaska having been covered up and written off as a tragic fire caused by a leak in the Alaskan Pipeline, the residents who had spent the winter down in Anchorage having rebuilt it. However, Stella Oleson, one of the survivors, isn't willing to let it be forgotten so easily. She tours the country, giving a presentation about vampires and the truth behind the Barrow disaster, all the while communicating with a mysterious man named Dane, who tells her to go to Los Angeles. There, she encounters a trio of vampire hunters that Dane had sent her way, Paul, Amber, and Todd, who wish to recruit her and take on Lilith, the leader of a large group of vampires. She also learns that Dane is actually a "good" vampire, one who has learned to suppress his murderous instincts and use the local blood bank for sustenance.
This film got off on the wrong foot the moment it introduced me to Melissa George's replacement as Stella, Kiele Sanchez. While George's Australian accent had a habit of creeping in where it shouldn't, she was still credible as a tough, modern-day frontier woman who has a rocky history with her ex-husband Eben. Sanchez, however, had only one mode of acting throughout the film, and that was "hardass". She held her own in the action scenes and when she has to play tough, but when it came time to display any tenderness or emotion beyond that, she flailed in the wind. The kicker? She still gave a better performance than her lead co-star, Rhys Coiro as Paul. At least Sanchez was capable of carrying some of the scenes she was in, with her interrogation-by-UV-lamp of a captured vampire being her highlight; Coiro couldn't even accomplish that much, feeling downright wooden from start to finish. He talks about how a vampire killed his daughter as though he were reading a TPS report out loud, and his romance with Sanchez was so forced that their sex scene had me bursting into laughter. The supporting cast didn't embarrass themselves quite as much, with Diora Baird probably being my favorite as Amber, the country girl from Oklahoma who realizes she's in way over her head, but given the competition, that's not saying much. Meanwhile, poor Mia Kirshner had virtually nothing to do as the ostensible villain Lilith beyond standing around and giving orders to her underlings (who do most of the actual work here), with only one scene before her final appearance establishing her as any sort of credible threat. The fact that Katharine Isabelle, in a thankless bit part as a young woman who gets kidnapped by the vampires with her boyfriend and has nothing to do but scream and beg for her life, gave the best performance in this film is damning her with faint praise, and speaks more about the quality of the rest of the acting on display than anything else.
The film's other qualities are superior to its acting, in the sense that they're merely generic and passable instead of ranging from mediocre to piss-awful. The makers of this film seemingly forgot about the amazing visual style that made both its predecessor and the graphic novels stand out. While the comic this film is based on (30 Days of Night was successful enough to become a long-running comic book series) kept with that stripped-back, heavily stylized look of its predecessor, and did so to great effect, the film looks like a run-of-the-mill action/horror flick set in underground tunnels, warehouses, city streets, and a freighter. The fights between the humans and the vampires do the job, especially with the gore effects that, while not as plentiful as in the first film, still came through in the end, but they don't really have that extra "oomph" to them. Without David Slade's direction and Jo Willems' cinematography, this film plays to the weaknesses of its predecessor, forcing the viewer to pay more attention to the story that, despite being co-written by the comic's writer Steve Niles, bears little resemblance to the source material beyond some of the characters' names, the Los Angeles setting, and an ending that, while it was heavily set up in the comic, comes out of nowhere here. The plot for most of the film basically amounted to Stella, Paul, Amber, and Todd running around, attacking vampire nests, then reporting back to Dane, all while Lilith barks orders menacingly at her subordinates. All the way to the end, there was little sense of urgency or danger for the main characters, even though the film was not shy about killing them off, chiefly because I really couldn't be bothered to care about them. Thanks to their poor performances and/or lack of development, they felt like action figures running around shooting stuff.
The Bottom Line:
It's not a trainwreck, but it's still not worth your time. It lacks most of what made the first film and the comic so memorable, without any new redeeming qualities to make up for it. I'm bored just writing about it for this long.