30 Days of Night: Dark DaysOverview -
Nearly a year has passed since the population of Barrow, Alaska was decimated by a vicious clan of vampires during its annual 30 days of night. Terrorized by nightmares and haunted by her husband’s murder, sole survivor Stella (Kiele Sanchez) has been trying desperately to expose the vampire threat to the world. When she’s unexpectedly recruited by three other vampire attack victims, Stella sets out to reap vengeance upon Lillith, the vampire queen responsible for the Alaskan bloodbath. Now, these vampire hunters must venture into L.A.’s dark and dangerous underbelly to try and stop the savage evil that is preparing to strike once again in this pulse-pounding thriller based on the second book in the popular graphic novel series created by Steve Niles.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
'30 Days of Night: Dark Days' is limp and amateurish, even by the admittedly low standards of direct-to-video sequels of only marginally popular theatrical films.
The new movie starts about thirty seconds into the ending of the first film, which, if you haven't seen it, means you should probably stop reading this. (The first film is recommendable, for 'Hard Candy' director David Slade's slick horror-show staging and for the ferocity of the vampires that descend on a small Alaskan village during the thirty days that they don't get any sunlight; think the opposite of Christopher Nolan/Al Pacino movie 'Insomnia.')
Spoilers to the first film to follow
So, at the end of the first movie, Josh Hartnett's earnest Alaskan sheriff does good by his surviving townspeople and becomes a vampire, only to off himself in the sun the next day, sort of like the end of 'Blade 2.' We see that sequence from the rear shot and then, when we turn around, Melissa George, who played his wife in the first film, has miraculously transformed into Kiele Sanchez, one half of the infamous 'Lost' duo of Nikki and Paolo. (She also starred in the underrated tropical whodunit 'Perfect Getaway.)
Sanchez's Stella has gone about traveling the world, wanting to "out" vampires. She is soon recruited, for no discernable reason, by a band of vampire hunters, who include fellow 'Lost' alum Harold Pennineau and Doira Baird. There's also some weirdo vampire dude who we're all supposed to recognize for some reason, like the first film is some hallowed text, and they go about tracking down a Elizabeth Bathory-like vampire queen named Lilith (played by the always delectable Mia Kirshner), who is about as threatening as a You Tube video of kittens.
The production values are admittedly low, which puts a major dent in the style quotient, and the storyline (co-scripted by the creator of the comics, the very talented Steve Niles) isn't compelling enough for you to get over the drab, clearly Canadian locations, which are interspersed every so often with tired old stock footage of Los Angeles (or wherever else they're supposed to be).
The producers referenced how they wanted this to be their "war" movie, probably thinking of the analogy between the first 'Alien' and the follow-up 'Aliens, which I guess if we're purely talking about the amount of noisy automatic weapons that are discharged in the movie, is pretty legit. If they mean anything else that's associated with the "war movie" connotation, like scale, scope, human drama, tough moral decisions, and questions of faith, destiny, and mortality; well, those are sorely lacking. Those grandiose notions may be lying in a storeroom somewhere, with the buckets of fake blood (which looks almost transparent here, which steals a lot of tension from the "bathtub" moment) and rubber vampire heads.
There's no reason to watch 'Dark Days,' even if you're the biggest fan ever of the original film. While that film isn't exactly a masterpiece, it did show a determination to do something a little different with the vampire genre, and it's steely directorial style aided it immensely (in 'Dark Days' they actually run one of the best shots from the original: the overhead tracking shot of the town in chaos). Here, robbed of even the most basic stylistic flourishes, you're left with something that you would expect to see run on the Syfy channel on a slow Saturday night. Everything they've stolen from elsewhere (there's even a weird, torture porn-y vibe) and nothing leaves much of an impression. For a vampire movie, this thing certainly lacks bite.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The disc automatically plays, after which you're treated to a bunch of trailers, some of them R-rated red bandy ones! There was a short clip for 'Piranha 3D,' one of my favorite movies of the summer, and an intriguing-looking direct-to-video piece of action junk that stars (wait for it) Wesley Snipes and 'Death Proof's' Zoe Bell. I'm positively tingly with excitement. The 50GB disc is packaged with an accompanying DVD and is Region A locked.
There's nothing terribly wrong with the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) for '30 Days of Night: Dark Days,' but it isn't what I would call spectacular, exactly. It's a workmanlike, get-the-job-done transfer.
The movie has a grey, muddy pallet that doesn't do anybody or anything any favors (it's keeping with its steely Canadian production values). Things are indistinguishable from one another, and the extra clarity provided by high definition doesn't help matters any, either. Definition is okay, but not great. Black levels are adequate but never outstanding. Skin tones are generally fair.
If this sounds like middling praise, it is. Another big downside is that the super-fake special effects look even phonier in high definition, the rubbery exploding heads and gobs of gooey blood. It does a lot to take you even further out of the action than the lame-ass storyline. There's a scene where the vampire queen climbs out of a tub filled with blood, and the blood looks so shiny that it almost becomes translucent, not at all like the reddish goo that gives us all life.
This is an okay transfer. That's about it.
Similarly, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't anything to write home about.
As far as the basics go: dialogue is crisp, clean, and well-prioritized. Sound effects sound meaty and loud, although sometimes to an overwhelming degree. There are some nice atmospherics, particularly in the more chaotic action sequences, but sometimes these sequences aren't as well defined as they could be. Overall there seems to be a distinct lack of finesse that prevents this mix from ever truly breaking through into the hallowed ground of excellence.
Additionally, the score, by Andres Boulton, is clunky and lame, at times seems way over-pumped. Some occasional nice ambience can't get in the way of a very basic sound mix that never really dazzles and, again, could not be considering a "tipping point" factor in choosing the Blu-ray over the DVD. There isn't a whole lot else to say on a mix that is so pointedly blah.
There are additional English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish audio mixes (all DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) and subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
There are a couple of extras that this disc shares with its DVD counterpart, and one feature that's exclusive on this Blu-ray. So, um… enjoy?
- Commentary with co-writer/director Ben Ketai and producer J.R. Young This is total amateur hour in Dixie; these two are totally drab and say boneheaded stuff like "Thank God for stock footage!" (something you could clearly picture Ed Wood saying). They're very proud of their little movie, applauding their masterful use of second-rate special effects and the accomplishments of their B-list actors without offering any real insight into anything. Skip it.
- The Gritty Realism of 'Dark Days' (HD, 10:07) I've come to realize that the phrase "gritty realism" is mostly used as catchy advertising lingo for something that is not all that gritty, but just desperate for attention. Such is the case with 'Dark Days,' and this brief making of documentary doesn't do anything to dispel these notions.
Even if the first '30 Days of Night' offered a handful of diverting thrills, there's no reason you should rush out and see the sequel. Shot on the cheap, with none of the original cast members, and little of the first film's wit or visual oomph, this is a direct-to-video bore that's better left forgotten. It's lame, lame, lame. And the sub-par audio, video, and special features don't exactly lend it a lot of weight, either. As far as vampire movies go, '30 Days of Night: Dark Days' kinda sucks.
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