(director: David Slade; screenwriters: Steve Niles/Stuart Beattie/Brian Nelson/based on the comic by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith; cinematographer: Jo Willems; editor: Art Jones; music: Brian Reitzell; cast: Josh Hartnett (Eben), Melissa George (Stella), Danny Huston (Marlow, the Head Vampire), Ben Foster (The Stranger), Mark Boone Junior (Beau), Mark Rendall (Jake, Eben’s kid brother); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sam Raimi/Robert G. Tapert; Columbia Pictures; 2007-New Zealand)

“Now if you dig vampire flicks that will gross you out and are filled with gory set pieces, then maybe the high number of ax decapitations will catch your fancy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The best thing about David Slade’s (“Hard Candy”/”Do Geese See God?”) horror flick is its setting at Barrow, Alaska, which is the northernmost city in the United States–a place which goes without sun for a month each year. It’s taken from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s graphic novel about vampires taking over that Alaska town when it’s dark for a month. The screenwriters Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson run amok with the 80 page comic book story by giving it the Hollywood brush over and needlessly take this vampire invasion as something deadly serious, fail to go for laughs when that would seem to be a given and also fail to keep things frighteningly chilly despite its below zero setting and free flow of blood. Now if you dig vampire flicks that will gross you out and are filled with gory set pieces, then maybe the high number of ax decapitations will catch your fancy or the scene of the unaccounted for little girl with the blood-smeared mouth nibbling on a corpse will wet your whistle.

It opens when an ugly snarling bearded vampire’s helper, a raw meat eating weirdo (Ben Foster) clad in a parka, who was set ashore from a ship in Barrow, just before it goes dark for a month, and he starts vandalizing the area, killing all the local sled dogs, destroying cellphones and doing everything possible to cut off any hope of escape or contact with the outside world.

Spunky Stella Olemaun (Melissa George), a cute fire marshal whose territory covers Barrow, is the estranged wife of the earnest and bossy Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett). After a traffic accident with a bulldozer totals her SUV she misses the plane to Anchorage, forcing her to stay the next month with the ex-husband she no longer can stand. Unfortunately he still likes her and the grueling subplot is about their failed relationship and possible reconciliation.

The creepy looking pack of Goth type vampires, with pointed teeth, blood-smeared mouths, glossy black marbles for eyes, and who talk in a Nosferatu tongue requiring subtitles, are led by a hideous feral looking Marlow (Danny Huston). They invade the town and start knocking off the hearty citizens of Barrow in droves, who have no way of escaping or fighting them off since guns can’t harm them. Here’s where Eben’s leadership comes in handy and gets Stella a little hot for the ole boy again, as he coolly comforts the dwindling survivors by acting like Gary Cooper would as a sheriff and telling them “We have two advantages: We know the town and we know the cold.” He then gets them to huddle together in a spot that is hidden from the vampires and seeks to outlast those blood suckers until sunlight returns and they turn to black confetti, permitting only an occasional guerrilla attack by using the one thing that gets their attention–a sharp ax to cleanly lop off their head.

Hartnett is such a lame actor that it’s hard to tell the difference between him and the undead. The film further stumbles in the snow, as it gives us little feel for this bewildering one of a kind community before it goes into the wholesale cheesy B-film formulaic slaughter-house business and the characters we knew only through a brief glimpse or never knew are getting knocked off faster than free drinks at a bar frequented by longshoremen. All the gore does not yield genuine fright scenes, but it makes for an uninspiring, unpleasant and sloppily made film.