The Horror Advocate makes cases for the under-appreciated cinematic treasures that lurk just beneath your bed. If your horror film is publicly derided, undeservedly ridiculed or generally forgotten, you may find yourself in need of… The Horror Advocate.
The movie, making excellent use of the natural occurrence of a polar night, explores the vistas of the snow-laden land in America’s northernmost city. Though creative license is taken with just how dark things get and how quickly, the story picks up the terrifying sticks laid down by something that actually occurs in nature. You can feel the cold and desolation when looking out past the boundaries of town.
Once the film settles within the town of Barrow, we are drawn in by what is clearly a close-knit and warm community of people. The shared experience of dealing with nature at its harshest brings an already established sense of trust between the residents. They depend on one another to live each and every day. This makes the community a difficult one to ingratiate yourself with, and with good reason outsiders aren’t looked upon kindly.
When The Stranger (Ben Foster) ambles into town, it isn’t unlike a Western when an unknown rustler enters the town saloon, causing a stir and uneasiness. Only, this Stranger isn’t out to steal cattle, he’s here to pave the way for something more sinister.
The film focuses on the splintered relationship between Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his ex-wife, Stella (Melissa George), when she is stuck in town for the month-long polar night, having missed the last plane out of town. The eggshells being walked on by each mirror the ways the townsfolk must deal with the town’s new intruders.
Once the vampires enter town, they don’t do so senselessly or scattershot. They have a plan and are very, very good at this. Led by Marlow (Danny Huston), the creatures aren’t treated as once-human, romantic beings deserving of empathy. These are monsters, through and through. They speak an ancient language and behave as diseased hunters, cold and remorseless. The movie doesn’t spare a single beloved character. The weak get picked-off often and those without an immediate hiding spot or a weapon aren’t shown the slightest sense of mercy. The attacks are brutal, swift and meticulous.
In what is arguably one of the greatest, most harrowing sequences in the history of the horror genre, the camera travels through and over Barrow’s main drag as the initial attack rages on below. The vampires tear open the bodies of their victims, splashing their vital red blood against the backdrop of pristine snow drifts. The movie stays quieter than most, ignoring sudden blasts of strings for the airy winds of the environment, making each attack feel less about circumstance and more about inevitability. The vampires are smart and relentless, giving our dwindling group of survivors absolutely no hope that they’ll be able to hold out an entire month.
As the film goes on, our hero realizes that there are no options in this situation. He must relent and accept the fact that life can’t go on as it once did, that no one will survive unless he does what is necessary. In our own lives, we often can’t let go of the past. We lock ourselves in rooms with ghosts created by our own stubbornness. What’s worse is it doesn’t just hurt us but everyone within reach. It’s an evil, destructive power, not letting life move on without that previous element. Eben must let go of his relationship with Stella, the threads of which tormenting those around him. Only in this situation, letting go of that past means laying down his humanity in order to give the innocent a fighting chance. To be clear, he doesn’t choose death. He chooses to use the evil against the aggressors and fight. He’ll never be the same again, but his death isn’t certain.
In an initially one-sided but quickly decided battle between Marlow and Eben, Eben manages to secure life for the town’s survivors, if not for himself.
With the battle finished, and the fate between Eben and Stella resolved, they share one last sunrise together. The final scene, in which Stella holds Eben as he chooses not to live as a monster, he turns to ashes in Stella’s arms; their love now just ashes in the ether. Eben may not actually get to move on in life, but everyone is now free from the sins of the past and the evil which would have consumed them all if they didn’t choose to fight.
30 Days of Night is poignant, beautiful and, all poetics and metaphorical resonance aside, a damned entertaining horror film for the ages.