Judge Daniel Kelly only drinks blood on special occasions.
Hollywood executives attempt to suck your wallet dry with yet another DTV sequel.
2007's 30 Days of Night was a pleasant surprise, a horror picture with genuine fangs and plenty of proper scares. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, 30 Days of Night benefited from an ingenious concept (A small Alaskan town attacked by vampires during a month of darkness), and some very ballsy direction from talented filmmaker David Slade. The movie performed modestly at the box-office, and thus Sony opted to concoct a direct to DVD sequel, based on the second installment in the comic book series. 30 Days of Night: Dark Days is a stronger motion picture than I was expecting, easily outdoing most shoddy DTV fodder. However in comparison to the original film it suffers, with the storytelling this time around falling somewhat short.
Facts of the Case
A year has passed since the attack on the town of Barrow, with survivor Stella (Kiele Sanchez replacing Melissa George) performing seminars across the USA, trying to convince doubters that the vampire threat is looming and very real. After pulling a particularly aggressive stunt at one of her talks, Stella comes to the attention of a group devoted to eviscerating vampires, headed up by Dane (Ben Cotton, Slither), himself a demon but curiously with his humanity intact. Stella joins the crew, the plan being to assassinate chief bloodsucker Lilith (Mia Kirshner, The Black Dahlia), and thus shake the very foundations of vampire culture. However the monsters quickly become aware of this violent strategy, sparking off a war on the streets of Los Angeles between good and evil.
This sequel relocates the action from frosty Alaska to L.A, rendering the franchise title somewhat redundant. The 2007 picture did a marvelous job of building dread and unseen threat, the dire circumstances of that movie making it a mesmerizingly unsettling experience. Dark Days forgoes the eternal darkness of the original for a setting more beneficial to its human protagonists, thus robbing this series of the consistent fear that bubbled below the surface of the initial film. In many respects, Dark Days is less a horror event and more an action vehicle, taking much more glee in staging fire fights than encouraging any semblance of creeping terror. Several of these action sequences are very well composed and professionally helmed by director Ben Ketai, but the claustrophobic hopelessness of the 2007 project was tonally more engaging.
The fundamental plotting of Dark Days is extremely basic; the writers stitching together a familiar enough yarn for the vampire shenanigans to unfold in. The narrative twists in Dark Days are fairly simplistic; Ketai (who co-writes with Steve Niles) is clearly more interested in staging individual sequences than fastening together a compelling bloodsucking saga. The characterization of Stella is quite effective, but the fresh supporting faces are a more two dimensional throng. Sanchez is a passable replacement for George (albeit I preferred the Aussie actress overall), displaying a convincing intensity and sense of sadness in the role. As the new villain Mia Kirshner is underwritten, but the actress still provides a ghoulish quality due to her eerie stillness and some freaky make-up. Ben Cotton, Rhys Coiro (MacGruber) and Diora Baird (My Best Friend's Girl) don't leave much of an impression as Stella's newly found buddies, their performances are vanilla and the writing surrounding them is very thin. The script clumsily bungles an unwarranted and unnecessary romantic subplot into the picture, an element that actually detracts from the guilt and remorse the audience is supposed to see in Stella.
Visually, Dark Days is a treat, the production offering a variety of cool and creative scenes not usually associated with DTV filmmaking. Ketai clearly wants to make a mark with the project, stretching his budget masterfully to allow the film some neat cinematography and rich action. A gun fight that happens in a tight metallic corridor about a third of the way through is a particular highlight, Ketai exploiting some fast paced camerawork and creative lighting to elicit excitement and tension. Dark Days earns its R-rating and sticks closely to the edgy undercurrent of the original picture, decapitations, mercy killings and general gore mongering playing a large part in the movie's action aesthetic.
The final showdown is satisfactory (perhaps the only element with which Dark Days bests its predecessor) and strongly hints that this series isn't going away yet. Further adventures wouldn't be a total waste of time, but perhaps returning to the 2007 film's terrifying roots wouldn't be a bad idea. The DVD comes equipped with a commentary track from Ketai which is an informative listen, although hardly bubbling over with enthusiasm or energy. The director clearly likes the source material, referencing it regularly when alluding to his inspirations. A short featurette has also been included, brief and without too much value, it does at least allow for input from a few of the other names involved. The film has been granted an attractive video transfer, robustly picking up on the subtle visual variations that Ketai employs to alter the mood of specific sequences. The audio is equally assured, resulting in a technically sound release from Sony.
Dark Days is on the whole a pretty average affair, although that's much better than I was pre-empting. Fans of this series should give it a rental.
It's probably guilty, but given its humble DTV origins, I can't really hold
too much of a grudge.
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