Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Daybreakers" (2009)

Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill
Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Daybreakers [Blu-ray]In 2019, the world has been taken over by vampires, and normal humans are an endangered species hunted to the brink of extinction.  Humans are captured and farmed for their blood to keep the vampire species alive.  Life on Earth has adapted: businesses and schools are open at night and closed during the day, cars are equipped with tinted windows, cameras and interior screens for driving during daytime, blood is served mixed into coffee, etc. 

But there's a problem: the vampires consume more than the human blood farms can provide.  Vampires that starve mutate into wild, vicious creatures known as "subsiders."

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) works for a corporation known as Bromley Marks.  He's a hematologist, in charge of their project to create a stable blood substitute in order to keep the vampire race going after their supply of human blood is gone.  To date, Ed's efforts have been unsuccessful.  Even though animal testing works, human trials are disastrous and lethal.  One night after a car accident, Ed helps a small group of humans evade capture by the police.  Ed, you see, is sympathetic - he never wanted to become a vampire,  and refuses to drink human blood.  Not long after, one of the humans, Audrey (Claudia Karvan), tracks Ed down and tells him she needs his help. 

But Ed's brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), a soldier who hunts humans, reports his brother's treason and Ed goes on the run.  Ed meets Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac (Willem Dafoe), a human who claims to have formerly been a vampire and somehow managed to cure himself.  Ed figures out a way to recreate this cure, and uses it on himself.  Now cured, Ed and the others must figure out a way to deliver the cure on a large scale while staying one step ahead of the military and his former bosses at Bromley Marks before civilization breaks down completely.

"Daybreakers" is one of those films where the premise is more intriguing than the execution of it.  I think there's a lot of potential to be mined out of a world where vampires are the dominant race, rather than humans.  The film has flashes of this, like shots of a school zone sign advertising 2 am to 3 am hours rather than the 7 am to 3 pm you might usually see, or commercials advertising underground tunnel systems for moving around in daylight hours.  It's the great crime of "Daybreakers" that it doesn't give much of a glimpse into this world that it creates, focusing instead on how to tear it down in a neat 90 minutes.

Indeed, "neat" is the name of the game here - "Daybreakers" moves briskly, barely time enough to develop much of anything.  A subplot involving the daughter of Ed's boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) is a fascinating idea, but given only scant minutes of screentime and is over before you know it.  The cure for vampirism is discovered in a mere two scenes and doesn't seem to particularly make much sense.  Even the action set pieces in "Daybreakers" are fairly small and nothing special or innovative.  They aren't bad, but it's nothing you haven't seen before.  Probably the best single shot in the film is at the climax, when Ed stakes a security guard and is blown across the room by the resulting explosion. It's an effect that's under-utilized, to be sure.

Still, "Daybreakers" isn't bad.  There are some cool ideas to chew on, but the movie simply doesn't spend the time necessary to really explore them.