Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Daybreakers (2010) Review

Edward, meet some real vampires
Tired of the romanticizing of the vampire mythos? Actually, I take that back; that’s too much of a generalization. I mean romantic vampires do have a place in the genre too (Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are some of the best). I’m talking more about the new trend with Twilight where they try to mix the angst and romanticism of being a vampire with clich√© teen angst. It’s arguable that the vampires in Twilight are barely even what someone would count as vampires. Sure they still need to feed on blood, have pale skin, and are immortal, but by and large these are not vampires except for those basics. Now I admire that Stephanie Meyer wanted to put her new spin on vampires, and her concepts work in the context of the Twilight story (with the exception of the damn “sparkling” in daylight), but as a huge fan of horror movies, I’ve been waiting for a “true” vampire movie. With the exception the great Let the Right One In (and to a much lesser extent, 30 Days of Night), there hasn’t been a noteworthy one in quite a while. Which is why Daybreakers was such a relief for me. But not only was it a return to form for vampires, but the story created for it even had some unique ideas that will help it stand out in the future.

Plot Synopsis: Edward Dalton is a rarity in the world of 2019, a vampire who doesn’t attack humans and instead lives on animal blood. Coincidently, he is a hematologist employed by the blood storage company controlled by the very successful and greedy CEO, Charles Bromley. Dalton is working on a blood substitute for the company because humans have become very scarce, but his efforts have only led to failure (and lots of red stuff). One night on his way back home, Edward crashes into a band of rogue humans, but he decides to let them go and returns home to find his soldier brother awaiting him. A subsider, a mutated vampire without any sense or reasoning, soon attacks the two. Eventually, one of the crash victims comes back to bring Edward to see “Elvis”, the leader of a small contingency of humans, who believes that he has found a cure for vampirism. But with Bromley’s military goons following their trail, will Edward be able to fine-tune the solution and explain it to the world in time?


Now here’s what makes that concept of a blood shortage so compelling. Take the blood, and replace it with oil in our world…or better yet, money, given the current economic climate. Yeah, now you’re starting to see the intrigue inherent in the plot of Daybreakers. Just as George Romero has done for the zombie genre, the Spierig Brothers wish to inject some social commentary into the vampire genre. The concept of some kind of resource shortage certainly drives the point home, adding some welcome resonance to the plot. How the Spierigs (who also wrote the script) use these themes and ideas within the context of vampires also shows a flair for the macabre. For instance, when the vampires starve of blood, they begin to turn into subsiders. The subsiders are nasty creatures brought to life by some great practical makeup effects and they bring a sense of dread and fear with them whenever they enter the frame. Also, the method(s?) that Elvis wishes to use to cure vampirism is very interesting. If you are one of the people who didn’t buy the blood transfusion in Near Dark, then don’t worry, because the cure used here is more in tune with the effects and concepts of being a vampire. Unfortunately, the movie begins to succumb to an action-heavy latter half; however there’s enough imagination flowing through its veins to make it feel unique.

The world envisioned by the Spierig Brothers is also brought to life with a keen eye for style and small details. Because most of the movie takes place at night (for obvious reasons), the world is bathed in cool blues and shiny grays. The noir inspired cinematography (complete with Dalton’s smoking habit) provides ample amounts of atmosphere and dread, along with some creepy visuals where the yellow tinted vampire eyes are juxtaposed with the dark look. Yet even with the stylized sci-fi look of the movie, most of the world seems to be very much like ours. The vampires go about their business in everyday fashion just as we do; they take the train, they go to work, and then leave for home as if nothing has changed. But this is still a vampire movie, right? In addition to the world-creating visuals, expect to find a healthy dose of action and gore. Gore hounds in particular will leave the theater with a smile on their face, with lots of body horror, limbs ripped apart, and plenty of stakes through the heart. And with the exception of a few moments of cheesy CGI aid, all the blood effects are done with practical methods.


On the acting side of things, we have Ethan Hawke playing our reluctant hero, Edward Dalton. Hawke isn’t really known for his work in genre movies such as this (with the exception of the excellent Gattaca), but his everyman qualities and emotions help us relate to him in this otherwise alien setting. His quarrels with his brother Frankie played by Michael Dorman, about each other’s different beliefs on human treatment, work well within the story while still being relatable to the rest of us. But the real standout actors in the movie are Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe, as Bromley and Elvis respectively. Neill, in particular, looks to be enjoying the opportunity to play a truly evil villain for once. Like any evil businessman, he’s duplicitous and always looking for the most profitable business angle. But even Bromley has his faults, like his estranged relationship with his still human daughter (played by Isabel Lucas). And then on the human side, we have Dafoe playing the wisecracking Elvis. While he is saddled with some unfortunate one-liners, Dafoe’s personality and all around hard ass attitude make him a hoot to watch.

Of course, like many movies these days, the plot leads off into an open ending that leaves possibilities for a sequel, but while I normally don’t mind those open-ended conclusions, this one feels a little too anti-climatic to be really satisfying. Still, even though its ideas could have been more at the forefront and the ending was rather lackluster, Daybreakers remains one hell of a vampire movie that provides two hours of bloody good entertainment.


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