'Dark Days' Lacks Atmosphere, Intensity of '30 Days'

Directed by: Ben Ketai, Runtime: 92 minutes
Grade: C-

30 Days of Night doesn't reinvent the wheel when it blankets a small Alaskan village in perpetual darkness, mixing blood and snow as its citizens flee from vampires in a spin on the isolation horror blueprint. In Hard Candy director David Slade's hands, adapted from Steve Niles' graphic novel, it still succeeds in delivering aggressive horror and a deft mood amid some iffy gaps in logic -- par for the course in the genre, but effective nonetheless. 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, adapted from the second entry in Niles' series by co-writers Ben Ketai and Niles himself, relocates from the frigid atmosphere into the "confines" of urban Los Angeles for a faithful take on the post-Alaska aftermath. Only this time, in Ketai's hands as director and sporting some impressive budget-defying effects, the results are far less attention-grabbing and direly lacking in the thrill department.

After the events in Barrow left her the only survivor and grieving for her husband, Stella -- recast from Melissa George to Kiele Sanchez, recognizable from A Perfect Getaway and her stint on LOST -- began traveling from city to city across America trying to convince people through public speeches that vampires exist. She's fighting against the nation's cover-up effort, which approaches sensitive territory for her among the claims that Barrow was victim to a disastrous pipe leak instead of a vampiric siege. Pushed to her limit and carrying the knowledge that vampires watch her speeches, she finds a way to pin-point a few onlooker monsters to a Los Angeles crowd, sending the auditorium into a panic. This draws attention to Stella, both from the vampiric community and a trio of vampire hunters (Rhys Coiro, Harrold Perrineau, Diora Baird) ready to make Stella their fourth in a mission to kill the leader, Lilith (Mia Kirshner), responsible for the Barrow attacks.

Obviously, you can't really blame Dark Days for the change in location since author/screenwriter Niles adheres to his source material, but it's hard not to pine for the crisp atmosphere of the arctic when engulfed in the humdrum, orange-drenched locales of Ben Ketai's Los Angeles (actually in Vancouver). The rust-bathed coloring never gets the moody mojo flowing, borrowing from Guillermo Del Toro's look for Blade II in a fairly empty-handed and uninspired approach. The same can be said for any scenes entrenched in Lilith's underground dwelling, which slips into the stylishly caustic black-and-teal veneer that's all the rage with modern vamp-action flicks. Considering that Dark Days branches from a horror film that works because of its surroundings, an event referenced and alluded to repeatedly throughout the sequel, the banality of the setting doesn't do much to distract from any keenness for its predecessor's locale.

Neither does the distinct lack of suspense. Dark Days, after ironing out apprehension on Stella's side once she learns that another vampire has orchestrated this "hit" on queen Lilith, transforms into a halfhearted, dime-a-dozen vampire revenge film driven by a strained focus on its characters. It attempts to create glimmers of empathetic drama between Stella and the hunters, namely Rhys Corio's rogue-ish widower Paul and Diora Baird's spunky pessimist Amber, offering a few flinches at character interest that ultimately fall flat. Their mostly stock dialogue, though performed well enough, uninterestingly rings out and disappears in the picture, unable to dodge the feeling that it's biding its time to get to a punchy last act. A few scattered threads attempt to shoehorn curiosity into the plot, including an FBI agent familiar "bug" (Troy Ruptash) yearning to be a vampire, but they simply do not gel together into an interesting cinematic narrative.

It's a shame, then, that Dark Days accomplishes a lot with its meager budget, boasting quite a few solid horror effects in the picture's volatile final stretch. L Word star Mia Kirshner's transformation into Lilith, the black-eyed, razor-toothed leader of the vampires, meekly grabs attention with her elegantly sinister posturing. Her presence, and that of her lackeys, adds a spark of visceral satisfaction amid one or two hostile sequences leading up to the finale. And thankfully, this sequel to 30 Days does find a way to pump a bit of isolation into the fray with its climax, dangling corpses by meat hooks and billowing smoke about in droves to muster a handful of aggressive, blood-drenched thrills. But the enthusiastic, albeit foreseeable close fails to justify the mildness that precedes it, building into a suitably-made yet bland sequel from Katai and Niles.

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