Director David Slade, who gave the world the vein-freezing, hemoglobin-depleting “Hard Candy” four years ago, has turned his hand to making a genuine horror film — a vampire thriller that plops A-list actor Josh Hartnett in the middle of a seemingly low-rent basement production called “30 Days of Night.” You know when you’re apartment hunting and the agent shows you into a dank, dungeonlike studio and then tells you the rent is $2,000? The same kind of shock is in store in “30 Days of Night” — everything looks dirt-cheap and well, DIRTY, but underneath the grime they’re actually using quality stuff. Slade, who directed “Hard Candy” on little more than a shoestring, assembled a sizable budget for this production but never lets it show. “30 Days” is a prime example of cheap chic merging nicely with horror — we’ve seen the formula work a dozen times (“28 Days Later,” “The Ring,” etc.) and in this movie Slade keeps the scare factor set to permanent hysteria while blood and other body fluids splatter with artistic flourish against walls, clothes and people’s faces. He’s not out for romance. He doesn’t want subtlety. All he wants is to chill the viewer to the very marrow of their existence.
Speaking of which, the story is set in Barrow, Alasaka, which, according to the production notes, is located at the northernmost tip of the U.S. and enveloped in total, sunless darkness for a solid month every winter. What we can see of Barrow doesn’t look inviting even if it were summer, but in this darkest and coldest time of the year, its bleakness would have Franz Kafka yelping for mercy. Understandably, most of the population and other living creatures have emigrated south. Unaccountably, 150 people including Sheriff Eben Oleson (Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), have stuck around. Bad choice, because a band of vampires have headed out to Barrow to feast on people’s blood vessels and wreak havoc; perhaps the place was written up as a vacation spot in some guidebook for fanged night seekers.