Friday, May 28, 2010
Let's assume that the inevitable vampire apocalypse happens in a few years. What would that world look like? According to Daybreakers, surprisingly similar to today. In the year 2019, the world has become overwhelmingly populated with vampires; vampirism has spread like a pandemic, infecting almost the entire human population. Aside from the streets being empty during the day, though, things appear much as they do now. There's still TV, vampires drive cars, drink coffee (with sugar and blood), and eat normal stuff. They just happen to catch fire and explode in the sun. With vampires being so much like their human selves, it is not surprising that they are running through their most precious natural resource: human blood. Yes, it is a subtle allegory. The number of "wild" humans is almost nonexistent and, even with human farms (a term that is not used in the movie, but totally should have been), the supply of human blood will run out in a matter of days.
So, what's the big deal? There are lots of animals that bleed. Unfortunately, human blood is the only blood that can keep vampires from turning into monsters. With extended periods of human blood starvation, normal human-looking vamps begin to change; they become paler, their ears become pointed, they lose the ability to speak, their hands become claws, and they grow wings. Basically, they end up looking like Nosferatu with wings.
Ethan Hawke's character is a vampire hematologist (Hilarious! Aren't they all amateur hematologists?) that is trying to create a human blood substitute for the vampire population. So far, his best result has led to his vampire subject exploding. And that, apparently, was progress. Hawke works for Sam Neill's company; Neill wants to farm humans out for their blood. Why he is funding Hawke's work when he clearly just wants human blood, I don't know. They kind of explain this (the general population gets the substitute, while the rich pay for the good stuff), but Neill later claims this was a lie. Whatever. Hawke happens to hate being a vampire. He doesn't want to die, but he has been abstaining from human blood for a while, drinking only pig's blood. He accidentally encounters the human resistance and meets Willem Dafoe's character, a human that was once a vampire. Together, they work to find a cure to vampirism...but will anyone want it?
As far as vampire movies go, this is a solid entry into the genre. It's smarter than a lot of vampire movies and I liked the pseduo-science that went into the script. Hawke's work with Dafoe was interesting, if a little silly, and followed a moderately logical stream of thought. Basically, the sun starts a vampire's heart beating, but it increases too fast, causing their body heat to increase, eventually lighting on fire. The explosions aren't explained. Still, that's not a terrible idea, so writers/directors Michael and Paul Spierig deserve some recognition for trying to make vampirism sound scientific. I liked a lot of little touches in the movie. I liked that vampires can buy cars that have darkened windows and digital video cameras so they can drive in the daylight. I like that they don't only drink blood, but it is an important part of their diet. I really liked that this movie explained the more monstrous style of vampires; you don't usually see the scary vampires in the same movie with human-ish vampires. A lot of thought went into the production for the lifestyle of vampires, and it really comes through in the details of this film.
That said, this movie could have used more attention to the script. To give you an idea of the poor choices made in this movie, Willem Dafoe sings a few lines of Elvis Presley's "Burning Love." Yes, it's awkward. There are other things that just don't make sense. Sam Neill has a human daughter that is captured. He has her turned into a vampire against her will, despite knowing how close they all are to starvation. Not exactly father of the year material. There is a scene where humans are traveling great distances to reach a supposedly safe hiding spot for humans, but they decide to travel at night. Maybe I have more military training (I have seen several war movies) than the Spierig brothers, but that just strikes me as stupid to a fault. Should they travel through empty streets during the day, or travel at night, when vampires are active? Tough call. That sort of random stupidity is all too common in this movie and really keeps it from being genuinely good.
The acting is solid, despite a largely foreign cast. Ethan Hawke apparently combs his hair back only when he's a vampire, but is fine aside from that. Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe; he's not winning over anyone with this performance, but he is typically solid and over-the-top at the same time. Sam Neill does a good job with this villainous turn; he does not appear to like acting in American movies much, but it's always nice to see him pop up. Claudia Karvan, Jay Laga'aia, and Michael Dorman turn in respectable supporting performances, but nobody really stands out. As far as direction goes, the Spierig brothers seem competent, but I think directing is just their way of getting their screenplays to the big screen.
Daybreakers has an interesting concept with a lot of good detail, but the story allows a lot of stupid things to happen. I'll give the Spierig brothers kudos for trying to make a smart vampire movie, but they don't succeed here.