DAYBREAKERS (2009) **1/2 movie review by DARK SIDE

Posted on January 18th, 2010
Posted on January 18th, 2010

With vampires en vogue at the moment, Hollywood has been struggling to figure out how to cash in on the latest horror movie craze. Understanding that not all viewers are enraptured by the “Twilight” phenomenon, studios have been struggling to develop vampire-themed properties that show potential for larger appeal. “Daybreakers” attempts a big-budgeted stab at making vampires marketable to the action-horror crowd, but the filmmakers don’t seem to realize when they’re flogging a dead horse.

“Daybreakers” takes place in the near future when a bat-born virus outbreak turns all but 5% of the world’s human population into blood-sucking vampires. With food supplies dwindling, a fascist vampire corporation (led by Sam Neill) farms the remaining humans for blood while vampire hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and his team desperately search for a non-lethal blood substitute. If he fails, humans will become extinct and the starving vampires will devolve into cannibalistic man-bat creatures known as “subsiders.” When a random act of kindness puts Dalton in good favor with a ragtag group of human survivors, they soon recruit him to solve a crucial mystery… Elvis Cormac (Willem Dafoe), once a vampire, has inexplicably been cured of the vampire virus. Inspired by this revelation, Dalton races to discover the cure before either the corporation captures the humans or the subsiders destroy them all.

The exciting, flawlessly-executed trailer piqued my interest for this film and I felt the premise was above average. I wish the trailer had harkened the quality of the final product. Instead, I had to deal with a mish-mash of Hollywood vampire cliches orchestrated to serve the plot, as usual. Sure the filmmakers tried to throw some classic mythology in there… Vampires are immortal, heal instantly, have goofy fangs, ignite in sunlight (a recent invention, no mater what classical literature insinuates) and for some reason, these virus-born bloodsuckers have no mirrored reflection?

Part of the problem is that the novice Spierig Brothers (the directors) are too new to figure the nuances. They are visionaries and they do have big ideas, but unlike their previous Australian zombie romp “Undead,” they couldn’t reconcile the dead-serious with the silly. “Undead” was entirely silly which kind of worked if you factored out all of the poor filmmaking and ill-deserved foreign hype.

Luckily, Willem Dafoe got the memo and went for campy laughs. His character aimed for pure chuckles and seemed so far out of step with the rest of the cast, I gathered he was the only one who saw the script for it’s true purpose. Despite its creation date, in 2010 this film could either be dead serious or pure camp and nowhere in between. The Spierig Bros., either through studio pressure, or their own limited skills, did not choose a solid tone. Case-in-point(s): The vampires had goofy fangs. The actors (especially Sam Neill) spoke so poorly with their fake fangs in, I wanted to sign them all up for speech therapy. The “vamps exploding in sunlight” (the lamest of all vampire faux-mythology) seemed so arbitrary, even reflected and ambient sunlight resulted in inconsistent damage and further flawed the validity of the story structure… etc, etc, etc…

Okay, you got me. So I’m biased against vampire films. Since when has a vampire film ever reflected the idea of the limited-yet-original “Dracula” story? Merge the idea with zombie movies and you’ve got one of the most boring, one-dimensional horror structure hybrids that hardly resemble the legends the original source materials were poached from.

Not to mention when you concede that the original vampire mythology was a diluted amalgamation of the original “werewolf” legends, plus cultural embellishments, the true origin of the vampire mythos seems boring. Before I digress further, let me explain why “Daybreakers” doesn’t work…

Merging vampires with a dystopian future isn’t new. The toothless “Underworld” films ruined that premise years ago. Instead, “Daybreakers” decided to make the situation more apocalyptic (almost a prequel to Richard Matheson’s original “I Am Legend” novella), but without making the characters likable. It also attempted to present this sci-fi/fantasy concept frightening by adding a bunch of “BOO!” scare moments and gratuitous dismemberment. While I’m usually on board with such flourishes, “Daybreakers” never found its pace, nor could it conjure up a genuine moment. The film took itself too seriously and failed to find equilibrium between it’s serious, high-concept premise and it’s immature, campy construction.

I give little stock in the casts’ performances, except for Dafoe who was the only actor who seemed to realize this film wouldn’t work as anything other than B-movie camp. Nuts to the rest.

As for the innovations that the more serious action/horror fans were counting on in this film, “Daybreakers” succeeds in a handful of instances… #1: The concept was big-ticket and somewhat interesting. #2: These “Spierig Bros.” managed some iconic action shots, especially a spectacularly creepy slow-motion, wide-angled shot of a bunch of vampire soldiers tearing each other apart that was so original, it looked like a horror version of DaVinci’s “The Last Supper.” #3: The vampires aren’t all teenagers. Plus it forgoes melodrama for scares and blood.

Not enough for me to care about a vampire movie. I’ve seen similar things on Sci-Fi Channel Originals, but this one is worth a rent if you don’t mind sloppy narratives.

Exceptionally well-put together trailer below…

I vant to drink your seltzer water!  Bleeeeeeeh!!!

-Dark Side

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    1 Comment •


    1. Sebastian

      Have to disagree. The themes presented here are far more interesting than the vampire myths they mine to get to them, and the filmmakers know it. They are commenting about society. This film was very reminiscent to me of Gattaca (Hawke seems to favor these roles.) I also felt the pace was just right. I thought that Hawke and Dafoe balance each other well in the film. I do agree with Sam Neil’s mumbling through his fangs. Inexplicable. The only place the movie stumbles for me is at the end, the very end. I liked the shot you refer to here, but where was Elvis when the brother comes to the rescue?
      I also liked the idea of only non-diffused sunlight truly destroying the vampires. That was a very cool visual idea that I hadn’t seen before.

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