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Review: Daybreakers (2010)

July 12th, 2010

Daybreakers is really nothing close to The Matrix or 28 Days Later, even though it too rests on an interesting an unique idea.

Some movies just have not a whole lot going for them when I’m about to watch them.  Daybreakers is one such movie. I watched it earlier in the week while (i) suffering from a crummy stomach virus which both left me miserable and unable to really appreciate popcorn and (ii) reading “The Passage” by Justin Cronin, which is a book that, quite simply, puts most vampire stories to shame. But this isn’t a review of that brilliant book (which ranks as Amazon’s top book of the first half of 2010), that review will follow shortly when I finish it (it’s “War and Peace” long… well, not really, but darn close).

Anyway, Daybreakers is a movie I should have really liked.  It actually does meld a few different themes to create an interesting back story and milieu.  The basic premise is that a viral outbreak of vampirism (not the neutered “Twilight” kind, but the more Stokerish Blade variety) has led to a shift such that vampires have simply slid into and displaced humans in modern society.  Humans have become farmed for their blood and those that run free are hunted, but never killed.  The story somewhat expands on the idea from Blade of vampires as a back room clan with Catholic Church style resources, but no public face.  This has expanded to vampires fully running the show.  It’s actually a pretty interesting departure from the standard tale of viral apocalypse.  Pretty much every interesting fiction about viral apocalypse (be it “The Passage”, “World War Z“, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, or even Zombieland) involves a mindless destruction of the world as we know it.  In Daybreakers, humans are really just displaced.

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Sadly, the actual story of how the post-outbreak world evolved over a decade really isn’t considered at all and the back story isn’t really developed.  Instead we hop right into the story with three male leads: the always decent Ethan Hawke, the usually excellent Sam Neil, and the inexplicably employed Willem Dafoe.  Dafoe aside, the casting was actually quite good.  Hawke’s Edward Dalton is a character that pulls from many of the same emotions as Vincent in Gattaca.  And Neil is always talented when playing a man of questionable character.  So why then ruin it with Dafoe.  The guy just can’t act and certainly can’t carry a one-liner hero role as he attempts to here.

Hawke's character is interesting, though a bit undeveloped. This was a movie that probably needed 2 hours to really reach its potential.

Back to the plot itself, Hawke is a vampire hematologist working on, alternately, a substitute for human blood (to stem growing demand and dwindling supply of human blood) and a cure for vampirism.  Neil’s Charles Bromley is his CEO boss at a pharma outfit that appears to run the global world order.  Dafoe’s Elvis Cormac is a former vampire who’s been somehow cured and hopes to discover and spread his cure.  The story moves quite quickly and they don’t drag down with much of anything, so on a macro scale there are no real problems with the storyline.  The disaster is in the micro writing.

Generally involving Dafoe’s dialogue, we get awful one liners and awkward interactions.  There’s the bizarre decision to insert a daughter character for Neil, which leads to nothing but distraction and no character depth.  The director also treats us to a bizarre scene in which the film style has us feeling bad for vampires which have lost all reason and become truly murderous beasts.  And finally there is the decision to play with some cutesy stereotypes.  This is best exemplified by the thematic flying of the CGI bats through seemingly every scene.  No… there’s no suggestion that bats and vampires have any corporal connection, they’re just there as a treat, I suppose, for the viewers who might enjoy finding the hidden squirrels in a dental office waiting room Highlights Magazine.

Anyways, the movie comes to a decent resolution with what actually is a rather good plot twist.  The cinematography is actually pretty decent (meaning it’s a visually appealing film) and the story is OK on the whole.  If you ignore Dafoe’s character, the acting isn’t terrible and the principle is OK.  It just comes off as an unfinished, hurried product.  On the whole, you can rent it and enjoy one watching, but this is probably not a buy for anyone other than a true vampire fan.  It had great potential, but sadly did not deliver.

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