Friday, December 18, 2009


This Swedish vampire film is a solidly entertaining piece of work which, in its attempt to do something clever with the genre, brings together diverse influences ranging from Sam Raimi and old Hammer horror films to Frasier-style sitcom hi-jinks and Scream's postmodern (I know, I know) self reflexiveness. The basic concept is familiar to Steve Niles fans - a mother/daughter pair move to a Swedish town that experiences polar night (a month of darkness), the former looking to work with a genetics expert (naturally) at a local hospital. Naturally, mysterious deaths start occurring, small animals start disappearing and the geneticist turns out to be more than just a doctor, with all the goings-on possibly related to the pre-credits WWII sequence where a group of Nazi troops take shelter in a very dark cottage in the woods. After the initial killing (the guilty party's identity a little unclear), vampirism spreads rather quickly through the town's younger inhabitants.

First off, it is not a rip-off of 30 Days of Night. It was actually made before that film (albeit after the publication of the IDW comic book) and, unlike it, does not do very much with the concept of a month of darkness other than use it as an excuse for mayhem to occur without inconvenient daytime intervals. The film is much more concerned with having a sense of humor and blending the various genre elements successfully (which it pulls off about two thirds of the time). This is not to say that it is an all-out comedy like Shaun of the Dead or entirely obsessed with post-ironic gags in the Scream style. The horror element is reasonably strong, especially in the first half. The pre-credits sequence is suitably claustrophobic and the initial build-up of atmosphere as the protagonists arrive in the town quite effective.

The vampires are surprisingly traditional in nature, despite the trait originating and spreading via virus. When the first wooden stake was hammered through the first heart, I realized just how long it's been since I saw a vampire being dispatched that way in a movie. No silver-loaded Uzis or UV lamps here. The monsters cringe away from crosses, react badly to garlic, don't show up too well in mirrors and generally come off as 21st century renditions of the familiar Hammer Horror/Universal types. This is also where the humorous element kicks in as the filmmakers blend that traditional-style monster story with the more contemporary teen horror tropes. This leads to budding teenage vampires being put in decidedly uncomfortable situations - one infected kid has to come to grips with his rapidly developing vampirism while at dinner with his girlfriend's parents, entree of the night being sea trout in garlic sauce. It's a great scene that reminded me of the similarly hilarious dinner-with-the-parents sequence in Drag Me to Hell.

The movie actually sustains that level of funny for a while, stopping just this side of trying too hard. The director is as good with creepy atmospheric shots of the snowy Swedish landscape as he is with clever visual gags -at one point a shadow of a man with a hammer approaching a sleeping woman morphs into an old guy with a rose. Funnily enough, the guy happens to have a hammer in his coat anyway. Throwaway gags like this abound and not all of it is visual. The dialogue is snappy and well-written with the town high-schoolers providing witty and pop-culture-obsessed vessels for the rapidly spreading vampirism trait. You haven't heard an Evil Laugh until you've heard one coming from the throat of a vampire who has just inhaled helium.

Unfortunately, the film also suffers from a major case of third-act-disintegration. The clever setups of the teenager subplot and the old-school grand guignol of the old doctor subplot come together in a Carrie-esque transformation of a high school party into a massacre that is sadly by-the-numbers. The movie concludes very abruptly in a fashion that suggests not so much an open ending as it does the filmmakers running out of material. The grandmaster vampire proves to be a poor hunter indeed and resembles every lazily done and (bad) CGI-enhanced generic goblin put on film in the last 10 years. Why they didn't stick to the effective physical effects, I do not know. Having done a good job of assimilating various influences, they finally drop the ball by trying to pull of a large scale action sequence inter-cut with a clumsy stalk-n-slash bit, leaving this viewer disappointed.

Still, in a wasteland of bad vampire movies, it's 100 minutes not too badly spent. There is very little going on under the surface. No nihilistic 'God/No God' philosophy as in 30 Days of Night, no hidden eroticism, no metaphors for the human condition; this is just a straightforward horror romp.

My IMDB rating of the movie - 6/10

1 comment:

blackaller said...