Desolate Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost point of human habitation in the United States. Eighty miles from the next outpost of civilization, helicopters and airplanes are the only way in—or out—in the winter. If that isolation isn't enough, for 30 days in the dead of winter, the sun never rises. So most of the town's 500 or so residents hop the last plane south before night falls for a month.
A few hardy souls, however, hunker down to endure the darkness. Among these is the town's sheriff, Eben Oleson; his younger brother, Jake; their grandmother; and deputy sheriff Billy Kitka and his family. One other character of note who finds herself stuck in Barrow is Eben's estranged wife, Stella, a state fire marshal inspector whose untimely run-in with a snow plow forces her into close quarters with the man she's trying to leave.
The seemingly unending twilight is hard enough. But then, ominously, the town's tenuous connections with the outside world are systematically cut off. Vandals disable Barrow's cell tower and the snowy hamlet's lone helicopter. And a prized sled-dog team is eviscerated.
Then the power goes off.
People start disappearing.
And the screaming starts ... and stops.
As impossible as it seems, Eben and a handful of terrorized survivors huddled in an attic piece together the horrifying truth: Their snowbound hamlet has been invaded by an insatiable band of vampires intent on feasting until the sun comes up ... in 30 days.
Among the ever-diminishing number of survivors valiantly trying to, well, survive, several volunteer to distract the undead interlopers so that the others can change locations. Such duty is a grisly, sacrificial death sentence.
Eben and Stella are estranged from one another and headed toward divorce. By the end of the film, though, Stella apologizes, saying, "I'm so sorry, baby. I should never have left you."
[Spoiler Warning] To save Stella, Eben injects himself with vampire blood in order to fight the super-strong beasties on a level playing field. He knows the blood will kill him when the sun rises, but he's willing to sacrifice himself to spare his wife's life and the lives of a few others.
When a young woman comes face-to-face with the vampire's leader, Marlow, she cries reflexively, "Please, God!" Marlow looks up before saying, "No God" and rushing at her neck. Another character who's been bitten and become a vampire alludes to an afterlife when he tells Eben that he looks forward to being reunited with his wife and children, who were killed by a drunk driver years before.
A female oil pipeline employee informs two male co-workers that she won't go home alone with either of them. However, when one of them suggests a threesome (with an implied sexual connotation), she agrees and begins flirting suggestively. The vampires interrupt their plan.
The bloodlust that drives Marlow and his vampires is absolutely animalistic. No mere pinprick of fangs here. These ravenous, fanged fiends are more like a cross between Jurassic Park's velociraptors and hyenas who haven't eaten ... maybe ever. Initial attacks are the most startling as victims are simply swept offscreen in a blur of black motion (the color of clothing favored by the vamps). As time drags on and the movie refuses to end, we witness image after image of these creatures burying their fangs with orgy-like glee in the necks of convulsing victims. Their savagery is gruesome, and leaves them covered with blood. In a particularly chilling aerial scene, the camera pans across the town as perhaps a dozen vampires feast on their prey amid expanding bloodstained pools on the snow.
Those feeding frenzies arguably aren't the worst of it, though. Eben realizes the only way to stop the vampires is by beheading them. He first takes the axe to a former friend who's been bitten. We hear the blade's repeated impact in this first of a half-dozen decapitations, then see the corpse and its severed head on the ground.
Later, survivors defending themselves from an absolutely ferocious vampire girl (who's perhaps 7 or 8 years old) pin her against a wall while Jake takes the axe to her neck. Another person gets bitten and submits to that same fate in a back room (which we hear but don't see). In perhaps the film's most shocking scene, we do witness each axe blow as Eben ends the life of yet another infected friend.
The vampires decapitate some of their victims as well. We see the head of one man on a spike, and hear another's fall to the floor.
Battles with the bloodsuckers result in other spectacularly gory casualties. Grinding gears at a factory remove one man's hand and turn a vampire into undead hamburger. A human operating a front loader rams vamps into a wall; revolving ditchdigger blades on the other end chew up one and cut another cleanly in half. Eben thrusts his fist through the back of one creature's head, and one unfortunate victim is impaled and hung on a wall. A shotgun blast takes the head off an attacker. And so it goes.
"Milder" violence includes images of mutilated dogs, a woman's face being sliced repeatedly, a vampire's face burning and lots of undead invaders being momentarily slowed by bullets and shotgun blasts. Marlow bends Eben's hand backwards and clearly breaks it; a fleeing townsperson suffers a similar fate when his leg is bent and broken. An explosion sets several vampires on fire. Marlow ends one man's life by crushing his skull with a boot. One of the undead monsters steps in a bear trap and gets dragged by it behind a vehicle. Others are run over by cars and trucks.
[Spoiler Warning] After Eben kills the creatures' leader, he and his wife wait for sunrise. The sun's rays char Eben's face, which slowly disintegrates into ashes that blow into the Alaskan sunlight.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mention is made of the fact that the local store doesn't sell alcohol during the 30 days without sunlight because it's hard enough for people to cope without being intoxicated. In one of the locations the survivors hang out, Jake (who's 15) discovers a fifth of vodka. He and another character share swigs. Big brother Eben doesn't object.
Eben also finds a bag of pot in Jake's possession; turns out it's grandma's marijuana, which she uses for "medical" purposes. Locals wonder if the attackers are "coked up on PCP." Eben uses an inhaler for his asthma.
30 Days of Night may not be the absolute bloodiest film I've ever seen. But I'm hard put, off the top of my head, to think of anything worse. And believe me, the words off and head definitely go together here. Forget silver bullets, garlic wreaths and stakes through the heart. The only handheld implement capable of slowing the vampires is an axe ... repeatedly and forcefully applied to the monsters' necks. Add to that the vampire's predator-like affinity for human blood, and this is a movie where red flows like rivers of Alaskan oil in the snow.
The main reason for bringing this story (which began life as a graphic novel) to the big screen seems to be nothing more than the "joy" of gore. Producer Rob Tapert, who worked on this project alongside horror and action veteran Sam Raimi (who helmed the Spider-Man movies), said simply, "We fell in love with the idea of vampires coming to Barrow, Alaska, once the sun has set for a month. It was a project that got us excited because it delivers a level of intensity and horror that as a young guy, I loved in these kinds of movies and to this day I still enjoy. For Sam and me, 30 Days of Night is a return to our Evil Dead roots."
Indeed, 30 Days of Night has as much in common with zombie movies as it does most vampire tales. These aren't self-aware, angst-filled vampires like those made famous by Anne Rice. This is not a tragic story of creatures struggling with the idea of living in their loveless undead state forever. The vile vampires on display here are driven by one thing, and one thing only: their lust for blood and lots of it.