Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers

Daybreakers ** ½
Directed By:
The Spierig Brothers.
Written By: The Spierig Brothers.
Starring: Ethan Hawke (Edward Dalton), Willem Dafoe (Elvis Cormac), Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), Claudia Karvan (Audrey Bennett), Michael Porman (Frankie), Isabel Lucas (Allsion Bromley).

A large part of me wants to like the new vampire movie Daybreakers. For one thing, this is the bloodiest film I have seen in a few months, and I do love a good dose of gratuitous violence. For another, the vampires in this movie actually act like vampires, not a bunch of pussy male models (if you don’t know what movie I am referring to, then you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years). And finally, Daybreakers really does try to be more than just another horror movie. There are political and social overtones in the film that I appreciated, and yet they don’t quite take hold. Daybreakers tries really hard to do more than just scare the audience, and even it doesn’t quite work, I still appreciate it.

In 2009 an outbreak of vampirism shook the world, and now 10 years later almost everyone left alive is a vampire. The remaining humans are mainly kept in huge storage facilities and farmed for their blood, but the supply is running low. If a blood substitute is not found soon, then the vampires are going to go through a strange evolution into absolute monsters - raging ids who will attack anything. Feeding on themselves or other vampires only makes the process worse.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is the Chief Hematologist for a huge corporation. He never wanted to be a vampire, and still refuses to drink human blood. It sickens him that he works for a company, who runs the largest blood farm in the world, but they also fund his research - he is looking for a blood substitute so that vampires no longer have to feed on humans. His boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), is amoral to the core, but recognizes good work when he sees it. A blood substitute means profit. Sometimes, even in a world run by vampires, never change. A group of humans contact, led by Elvis (Willem Dafoe) and Audrey (Claudia Karvan), contact Edward for his help. They do not want a blood substitute. They want a cure.

Daybreakers tries to make points about the current corporate culture, this time greedy executives are literally bloodsuckers. Neill’s Bromley is not interested in a cure for vampirism, but the blood substitute. In part because he loves be a vampire, but also because it means less profits. A blood substitute will be bought over and over again, whereas a cure will only be bought once. This mirrors the criticism that has been leveled at pharmaceutical companies over the years for the research on AIDS. A cure or vaccine would not make them as much money as the cocktail of drugs that AIDS patients have to take every day.

It also quite clearly is looking at a world where a precious fluid will become in low supply, and the chaos that will result because of it. Sooner or later in our world, the same thing could happen if we do not become less addicted to oil, and find a substitute. The war for oil has already begun, but will become more violent as the years pass.

These themes were the most interesting aspect of the movie to me, and unfortunately they are only half developed during the course of the film. The film spends much more time on the relationships in the film, and they are not nearly as interesting. Hawke is a little dull as Dalton, a constant do gooder. Neill is marvelously, malevolently evil as Bromley. Best of all is Dafoe, an absolute hoot as Elvis, a string of one liners marvelously delivered. He is clearly having fun here, and as a result when he’s on screen, so are we.

The film is also gloriously violent, especially the climax, which stages a few huge bloody battles, where geyser of blood shot out from decapitated heads, arms fly across the screen, and blood covers just about everything in sight.

Written and directed by The Spierig brothers (who also directed the similarly ambitious but flawed zombie film The Undead a few years ago), Daybreakers feels like the work of real filmmakers who are striving for something beyond their genre. That haven’t quite gotten there yet, but they are getting closer. I look forward to seeing what they do next.

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