Australia (dir. Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig)
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill, Jay Laga’aia, Claudia Karvan, Vince Colosimo
Synopsis: An unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, vampires must capture and farm every remaining human, or find a blood substitute before time runs out. However, a covert group of vampires makes a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.
Review: I wasn’t impressed with the Spierig brothers’ first film “Undead” – in fact I pretty much only managed to sit through half an hour of it before deciding it wasn’t worth my time. The humour was too out there and the effects were too over the top and splattery for my taste. It came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise when I learned they would be making a vampire film and releasing it in the midst of a particularly rampant vampire craze between late 2009 and early 2010 (largely due to the “Twilight” films, the “True Blood” television show, “The Vampire Diaries” books, and pretty much everything else riding on the coattails of the whole “vampires in the mainstream” phenomenon). However, it was unfortunate to learn of the long delay between the film’s completion and release – making me wonder whether this was just to have the release date coincide with the vampire craze or whether it was due to some sort of problem related to the quality of the film itself.
“Daybreakers” is a starkly scientific film that provides absolutely no supernatural explanations for vampirisim. The vampire “disease” is purely a medical phenomenon, and there aren’t really any explanations given to how it began. There are some great vignettes within the film of daily life in a world overrun by vampires: UV shielded cars and military suits, sunrise alarms, coffee spiked with blood, etc. The special effects are well done, and the vampires (both the normal ones and de-evolved ones, look fantastic). However, the problem inherent in this film is the lack of a developed story. The back story is well presented, but the actual story within the movie (a vampire pharmaceutical researcher and a rag tag group of humans fighting to find a cure for vampirism before the human race becomes extinct due to over-harvesting of blood) isn’t well developed and it feels way too short to boot. It’s an original story for a change and it’s certainly no romantic or sappy take on vampires, however it still feels like an under-developed story where the vignettes about daily vampire life become more captivating than the actual plot of the movie and character development is pushed aside to make way for more gory special effects.
The actors/characters are decent, and you get a fairly interesting male cast (Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe). Ethan Hawke is the atypical good guy vampire, Edward (funny name choice considering this movie is pretty far off from “Twilight”), who pretty much provides us with eye candy and a few vacant stares. Sam Neill is the evil pharmaceutical company CEO who is as blood hungry as he is money hungry. And Willem Dafoe plays Elvis, a wise cracking former vampire who was the first to discover a “cure” (or at least, a reversal) of vampirism (his funniest wise cracking remark?: “Well that makes about as much sense as bare backin’ a five dollar whore”). There is a no name actress who plays the role of the heroine/love interest to Ethan Hawke’s Edward character, but she is so bland and easily forgettable that she isn’t really worth mentioning at all.
There are two side stories to the main story which don’t even really contribute to the main story at all, they are just excuses to provide cool special effects or make Edward seem more of a humanist. One story involves the pharmaceutical company CEO’s human daughter and her unwillingness to become a vampire (even when changed into a vampire) and another story involving Edward’s military brother who was responsible for his own change from human to vampire. These stories are meant to aid in character development, but they stick out like sore thumbs (specifically the story involving the CEO’s human daughter). I wish they had spent more time providing us with vignettes about life in the vampire world then attempt to tack on some character development via a couple of side stories.
Now while it’s not a terrible movie, “Daybreakers” isn’t exactly fantastic either. I was hoping for a little something better than just a humans versus vampires story and maybe there could have been somewhat of a more romantic love story at the heart of the movie, one along the lines of something like “Twilight” or “True Blood”. I’m not saying that the horror elements should have been sacrificed for a love story, but it would have been nice to see something a little more emotionally heavy than something so focused on effects. It’s a nice change of pace to see a horror film, particularly a vampire film, based on an original concept but I feel like they could have done way more in terms of the story. The ending pushes the whole movie into super overkill territory and it basically feels like a bloodbath of epic proportions – way too overdone. Had that ending been not so ridiculously and unnecessarily violent, the movie would not have ended on such a low note. It was a good film, with the potential of being a great film, but it just misses the mark.