Friday, January 15, 2010

Daybreakers: A Review


Being undead is just no fun. I've come to learn this, not through personal experience (contrary to rumor) but through recent films like the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA) and Daybreakers. The vampire of today is one that is not only almost perpetually morose, but has no sense of style, no panache if you will. Why exist forever if all you're going to do is mope for time & eternity? Why is his world dominated by the color black? Why can't he have music, film, art?

Daybreakers is by the Spierig Brothers (that is how they're billed) and already that had me worried. Not that I've heard of the Spierig Brothers, but that they chose to be billed that way. The only time I've seen this was in the Satanically-awful Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, where the creative team was billed as The Brothers Strause, as is THAT were to mean anything. The only brothers who could be called film-makers are the Coen Brothers, and I'm not a fan of theirs. Yet I digress.

The film has a world that has been taken over by vampires. Humans (and their blood) are dwindling, and now the vampires themselves are degenerating into "subsiders", bat-like creatures in body and mind. There are attempts to create a blood substitute at a major corporation (giving new meaning to "bloodsucking companies"), headed by Charles Brombly (Sam Neill). He puts this project in the hands of Mr. Dalton (Ethan Hawke), but his non-beating heart is not in it.

You see, Mr. Dalton doesn't drink human blood. He's sensitive to the human's plight and hates being a vampire. Did I mention his name is Edward? Sound familiar? I should know in my mind that this is not a copy of the perpetually Sullen Cullen from the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA), but to name a sensitive, morose vampire who doesn't want to hurt humans Edward couldn't have been a worse decision.

Edward has a brother, Frank (Michael Dorman), who hunts humans down and loves, shall we say, a nice glass of sangria. One night (of course it has to be night; he's a vampire--down to the Twilight eyes) he has a car accident and meets real humans. They are hiding and on the run from the majority population, but human Audrey (Claudia Karvan) senses Edward's different and may be able to help with a unique situation. I do believe she is entering Terra Bella.

She clandestinely introduces Edward to Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Willem Dafoe) who reveals a shocking surprise: he used to be a vampire, but is now fully human. Edward agrees (or rather circumstances force him) to go with them to try to reverse the effects of vampirism, and possibly stop others from becoming Subsiders. Edward discovers how to become human. If only he had discovered how to be human.

Daybreakers suffers from an intense need to be profound. I am willing to accept the film's premise that vampires are now the dominant species on Earth, but must their world be so morose? Their world is so empty and downbeat...not only is there no sunlight, but no color as well, and not just on their faces. The vampires that populate the world are so dour and humorless one wonders why they would want to continue. They saw a red door and painted it black. In fact, their world is quite literally dark--ALL the interiors are in shades of black. I wonder, is that an after-effect of having the life sucked out of you? The Brothers Spierig suffer from the same idea that plagues many modern films (including the Brothers Coen): they confuse stillness with suspense.

As I watched, I kept thinking that this is like The Omega Man/I Am Legend in reverse: from the mutants point of view. Like in those films, the humans are outnumbered and being hunted by the monsters, but in Daybreakers, we see the world through the mutants' eyes--if the mutants had emotions of some kind. This could have been an interesting field to explore, but it doesn't. It also introduces plot points that aren't followed up. For example, we learn that the first step from vampire to subsider is a change in the ear structure, and we see Edward with that type of ear. However, he doesn't suffer any other effects while others I gather change rapidly. Inconsistency I say.


The performances won't be long remembered because they were all one-note. One can say that Hawke, Neill, and Dorman should be lifeless on the screen because they were playing vampires, but the humans were oddly lifeless as well. Once Hawke becomes human himself through a controlled experiment, he remains joyless and solemn, a Sullen Dalton. I figured he would have marvelled at being returned to life, but nothing. I digress to state I think Hawke looked better as a vampire than as a human.


There were no emotions from any of them beyond glum, except for Dafoe. He acted as though he knew what life was like on both sides, but he also had this really crazy Southern accent that just sounded so funny. Neill I gather had gone to the same Vampire Acting School that Michael Sheen went to for New Moon (excuse me, The Twilight Saga: New Moon) since both were quite campy bordering on parody. A subplot involving him and his human daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas) was particularly ugly from beginning to end.

There is blood galore, and even exploding corpses (since vampires are not living, we can't quite call them bodies). I figure the Brothers Spierig wanted to give the audience its fair share of grotesque imagery--wonder if this is what the Hostel/Saw Generation really enjoys watching or is just TOLD it enjoys watching. Admittedly, I don't think the violence is up there with Hostel or Saw: the Citizen Kanes of torture porn. Still, if that's your line, you may find some things to your liking. I also wasn't pleased with the ending. It veers extremely close to if not actually violating one of my Golden Rules of Film-Making: Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel.

As it stands, Daybreakers has possibilities, ideas one would have hoped to build on, but they weren't pursued. Maybe it didn't want to. Maybe everyone involved just wanted to see heads cut off and humanoids being torn apart. If it merely wanted to be a bloodbath of brainlessness, Daybreakers may be midly interesting. If it was aiming for District 9 or Dracula (1931 or 1992 versions), it was a bloody failure.


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