30 Days of Night ***

"30 Days of Night" is a ter- rifying, visceral experience of evil, a thriller that takes care with detail and character.

Barrow, Alaska, the setting for David Slade's mesmerizing vampire thriller, 30 Days of Night, is so far north, it's plunged into darkness for one month each year.

In other words, it's a bloodsucker's paradise.

Adapted from Steve Niles' critically acclaimed three-part comic book, 30 Days is about a cabal of vampires who descend upon the town to kill and feed - and feed and kill some more.

A truly terrifying hell-ride through darkness for grownups, the film stars Josh Hartnett as Sheriff Eben Oleson, who joins forces with his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) to help a handful of townsfolk survive the attack.

Slade, whose shocking and disturbingly playful debut, Hard Candy, was an intricately plotted piece about a power-play between a predatory adult male and a disturbed teenage girl, treats this tale with as much care for detail and characterization.

Although the film contains its share of ripped-out throats and arterial sprays, Slade knows how to tighten the screws by cutting away from the gore to show the faces of dying humans, the faces of the feasting undead, or the beautifully stylized comic-book scenery.

Like John Carpenter's The Thing, which it evokes, 30 Days boasts an atmospheric and chilling sound design. Close your eyes and you'll be scared out of your wits just by the ambient noise.

Slade's most intelligent move was to cast character actor virtuoso Danny Huston as the vampire leader, Marlow, who speechifies about his hatred of God and his utter contempt for humanity.

In one particularly harrowing scene, Marlow and his followers toy with a little girl, pushing her back and forth between each other the way a cat bats around a half-dead mouse. They laugh with as much pure glee as sadistic menace.

As if by reflex, the girl invokes God, the way we all do. ("Please, God! No!")

With an almost gentle, but ironic, half-smile, Marlow tells the girl: "No God." Not missing a beat, he tears out her throat.

Like The Exorcist and Alien, 30 Days evokes a direct, visceral experience of evil in its purest form as the all-devouring, empty movement of life without purpose or order.


30 Days of Night *** (out of four stars)

Directed by David Slade. With Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston and Ben Foster. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.

Parent's guide: R (extreme violence, terrifying images and profanity)

Playing at: Area theaters

Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.