July 2, 2010

Daybreakers (2009)

"In the year 2019, a plague has transformed most every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind."

Although "Daybreakers" has a lot more to do with science-fiction than horror, and is somewhat derivative of another Australian movie "Thirst" from 1979, it really was a refreshing change for me to watch a vampire film that didn't completely suck.

"Daybreakers" follows very much in the tradition of "Blade" in that it has a lot of action. It also brings back most of the traditional vampire mythology with something new which I won't spoil for you.

Unfortunately it also follows the style of "Gattaca" so it's all very futuristic and stars Ethan Hawke again. I'm not really sure what to make of him as an actor as he never seems to show much of a range of emotions in any of his roles. Here he was just as sombre as usual. If he really is a barrel of laughs in real life then I expect that makes him a very fine actor indeed. He was more than acceptable as the scientist Edward Dalton so I have no complaints.

There's nothing remotely comical about "Daybreakers" though apart from some light-hearted lines delivered by the real star of the show, Willem Dafoe. He has a kind of "Whistler" role although he is also what Blade wishes he could be become. His character, "Elvis", was a vampire once but has been changed back to human through a combination of sunlight and water. How exactly it happened and how the effect can be reproduced is the turning point in the whole story.

Ultimately "Daybreakers" is yet another "virus" story where one character has a cure that will save everybody else but the powers that be don't want it to happen. There have been so many of these movies lately that I wonder if they are a designed social commentary or just coincidence. It's a bit like how in the 1950s when America feared invasion by other countries, everything seemed to be about alien invaders, and, when not enough babies were being born in the 1980s, 9 out of 10 movies were about little kids. If I was into conspiracy theories I would say that the movie industry is being used to tell us something.

Of course, "Daybreakers" is also just a very good action movie albeit full of as many clich├ęs as possible. It has everything from characters preferring to die than be changed to self-sacrifice for the greater good. It's a formula that we've all seen many times. I think it shows a real laziness on the part of the screenwriters and absolute contempt for the audience by the producers. As much as you can thoroughly enjoy "Daybreakers" on a superficial level, the glaringly obvious set pieces do detract from the overall effect.

There is also a lot of CGI thrown into the action scenes which you'll either love or hate. I thought the effects were done really well but maybe I've just got used to them now. Things have moved on considerably from when CGI looked like a computer game. I'm sure it's cheaper to make a movie this way but I do wonder if the actors find it harder to respond to the invisible things which are added by the computer whizzkids in post. It would certainly explain a few mediocre performances.

It has to be said though that Sam Neill does a really restrained job as the villainous vampire boss, Charles Bromley. There was every opportunity for him to go overboard and into some kind of "Dr Evil" mania but he kept it in check. I've always liked Sam Neill as an actor and can't understand the hate that some critics seem to have for him since "Jurassic Park" or even "Event Horizon". It's true that he often gets sucked into these larger than life characters and can make you cringe with overacting when he wants to but then so did Vincent Price and nobody seems to hate him.

Yes, even "The Last Man on Earth" gets a bit of an homage here and there with "Daybreakers". Every vampire movie ever made is thrown into the mix it seems but that's no bad thing.

I really think that it's time to stop with the virus/zombie/vampire movies now though as, to be brutally honest, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. If, like me, you've seen them all then you've already seen everything that "Daybreakers" has to offer too. But if you've got a bit tired of the sparkly vegetarian vampires in the "Twilight" saga then this really is a must see.

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