Vampires have always been a popular source of inspiration for works of fiction, but it wasn’t until recently that their influence really impacted Hollywood. There has been a seemingly non-ending wave of mediocre films that includes the “Twilight” series (which got a lukewarm reception among critics, but still achieved “powerhouse” status due to the fan-fare among it’s target audience — teenage girls) and the “critically-acclaimed” (quotes added for effect) vampire-spoof “Transylmania,” which garnered a less-than-modest box-office reception. The once fear-inspiring image of the vampire from olden lore has been reduced to a personification of teenage angst, but, luckily, directors Michael and Peter Spierig didn’t jump on the same bandwagon but instead rode alongside it with their latest film “Daybreakers.”
On the upside, the film shines as this year’s “District 9” — it takes a thoroughly milked fiction icon and mixes in a layer of originality. Aside from some juvenile horror elements and inefficiencies in the script, the Spierig brothers do a great job at re-imagining the vampire film and “Daybreakers” is a satisfying viewing experience. However, the overabundance of vampire-related movies and television shows has most frequent film-lovers groaning and this will deviate attention away from “Daybreakers.”
The plot of the film follows Ethan Hawke as Edward Dalton, a hematologist trying to find a substitute for human blood before starvation causes the population to mutate into “subsiders” (think Gollum with wings). Dalton, a vampire who refuses to drink human blood, joins a small band of humans to ease that promise to have the cure for vampirism.
On the other side of the coin is Sam Neill’s character, Charles Bromley, a powerful businessman (and Edward Dalton’s ex-employer) whose company makes a vast profit off of capturing and extracting blood from the remaining human population. Bromley is cold in both the literal and figurative meaning of the word and this makes him a perfect nemesis for the humane Dalton.
There is a bit of similarity between “Daybreakers” and last year’s “District 9.” Both Wikus and Dalton start off as employees for the antagonist and both of them run off to join the underdog. Both of them also use fiction as a means of expressing a bit of social commentary. However, “Daybreakers” doesn’t stress its message of corporate “blood-sucking” as much as “District 9” did for inequality. “Daybreakers” instead focuses on a formula of 50 percent story and 50 percent mindless action.
The Spierig brothers also do a good job at presenting a realistic metropolis in a non-realistic situation. Though the city’s inhabitants are blood-sucking, sunlight-hating vampires, it isn’t hard to imagine that humans once lived in these buildings as well. Just as Alan Moore and later director Zack Snyder used posters to convey the use of propaganda in their world in “Watchmen,” the Spierig brothers do the same in “Daybreakers” in order to implicitly present their dystopia. As such, an Uncle Sam poster preaching the imprisonment of any remaining humans are found common-found in Edward Dalton’s world. Another great stylistic choice was to add a blue hue in scenes involving the vampires as it adds greatly to the atmosphere.
Sadly, “Daybreakers” is a flawed movie. It borrows heavily on slasher movie horror elements but it takes more than sudden orchestral jumps and an object leaping up to induce a scare from anyone over the age of 10. Another mistake was the extremely-bloody action sequences. Though it is a scarce resource in the film, it is gratuitous on-screen and this detracts from the plot’s seriousness. The script too is often laughable and the surprisingly wooden performance by the previously Oscar-nominated Ethan Hawke doesn’t help.
Aside from Hawke, there’s Willem Dafoe as one of the humans that Dalton is helping; every bone in my body is telling me that his performance was subpar at best and the fact that his character was not idiosyncratic in the slightest doesn’t help — however, for some odd reason, Dafoe steals the show. Somehow, he manages to get a laugh out of the audience with otherwise bland jokes (an example being, “I felt like a piece of fried chicken” — I still don’t know why I laughed). Sam Neill also does a great job portraying the stoic persona of his character.
“Daybreakers” leaves a massive plot-hole which I assume is left for a sequel, but for a movie that has been complete for over two years, it’s just unforgivable. However, the Spierig brothers do a good job on their sophomore picture. It’s by no means a cure to the infectious influence of bland vampire movies, but their original retelling should be praised for staying true to the character’s roots in lore, while modernizing and adding a new twist to it.
“Daybreakers” may be a flawed film, but it’s also a fun way to start off the new year.
. . .
Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.