Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Daybreakers (2010) - Movie Reviews - 8/10

Get Your Teeth Into It

As I have said before, I am not a huge fan of Vampire movies. It is a sub-genre of supernatural fiction that seems to garner far too much attention. The themes and concepts are always going to be fascinating, and as a result it appears to be a constant source of material for every film-maker and author going. Everyone wants to have their go at saying “Look, I have a new idea about how to do something different with Vampires”. I'm torn, because I enjoy the supernatural genre, but ever since the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anne Rice's Vampire novels, we seem to have had an endless stream of novels, television series and films about the subject. On the plus side, this does mean that by sheer numerical probability, the occasion good story pops up.

Daybreakers takes the oft-considered but rarely put-to-film idea of a world both populated and run by Vampires. It is essentially a disease that has spread throughout the globe. Almost everyone is an immortal Vampire. The opening scene sets the tone of what such an existence would be like. A 'young girl', who has obviously been trapped in the body of such for far too many years, writes a note for her parents explaining how she can no-longer carry on in this in-between world of eternal childhood, before promptly committing suicide in the rising sun.

The surviving humans are kept in giant chambers, hung up and kept alive to be regularly drained of blood for the population, or else they are hidden in ever dwindling numbers, hunted for their precious supply. Unfortunately, humans are on the verge of extinction. Demand has far outstripped supply, and the Vampires are panicking, attempting to engineer an alternative synthetic substitute to sate their needs. To make matters worse, they have discovered that Vampires who do not get enough blood devolve into hideous animalistic bat-like monsters. Their world is on the verge of collapse.

Ethan Hawke (Explorers, Gattaca, Assault on Precinct 13(remake)) is the lead, playing Edward Dalton, a scientist dedicated to finding an alternate source of sustenance for his vampiric race. He reluctantly works for the owner of the worlds largest blood supply company, owned and run by the menacing Charles Bromley, played by Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon, In The Mouth Of Madness). Edward has resisted drinking human blood for some time, when he is contacted by one of the last groups of surviving humans. They may have discovered a cure for vampirism and need his help, but will they be able to perfect it in time, before the other Vampires find them?

What makes Daybreakers interesting, is the stark and minimal vision of a world where vampirism is the rule, rather than the exception. Subway coffee shops serve coffee mixed with blood. Billboard adverts are for vampire related items, cars have daytime driving systems that use video screens, the cities appear empty in the daytime, but thriving at night. The humans have become the creatures that move around mysteriously.

Daybreakers is certainly an adult film. The violence, especially toward the end, is bloody and graphic, almost more akin to a Zombie film than a Vampire one. Overall, it's great fun, with some neat ideas. I got the feeling this was more of an independent Australian production than a Hollywood one, and as a result it feels less restrained. It's not afraid to take things in directions that would normally be avoided in a typical Hollywood production, taking the time to establish the characters and story. When the action kicks in, it's tough and bloody, but no-one is jumping around on wires doing acrobatics. As a result, there's a feeling of genuine threat in the violence. You aren't quite sure who's going to survive, who isn't, and who will turn out good or bad. The cinematography is also rather stark and effective in many places, with warm browns and reds for the parts with humanity, and cold blues and greens for the night time scenes of the Vampire world.

Ethan Hawke is effective enough, but lacks something to make him more appealing as the primary protagonist. Meanwhile Willem Dafoe makes a likeable appearance as a character strangely reminiscent of Gas in eXistenZ, but Sam Neill is probably the one who steals the show here. He's on prime form getting his teeth into the villain's part (so to speak) and obviously had fun with the role.

It's not perfect. Sometimes it feels a little unsure of itself, but overall, if you enjoy the odd bloody vampire movie with a few interesting new twists, then you'll get a pleasant kick out of Daybreakers.

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