And the 2012 cinematic year gets off to a better than average start…
Daybreakers, written and directed by The Spierig Brothers, gets to an intriguing beginning [despite some vampire projectile vomiting and explosions] as it sets up a world in which vampires are running a very human civilization: glitzy buildings; TV programming – including a CNN-like news channel; coffee shops [20% human blood – though there is no explanation why this one human favorite is loved by vampires, even with the additive…]; billboards; subway advertising; vampire homeless, etc.
Ed Dalton [Ethan Hawke] is a hematologist who’s trying to come with an artificial blood replacement and getting fervent support from his boss, Bromley Marks CEO, Charles Bromley [Sam Neill], because there’s barely enough blood to supply the world for thirty days! As the citizenry become unable to obtain enough blood, they turn into creatures that look like the silent movies’ nosferatu, with bat wings – and then start chowing down on anything that moves [human, vampire, they don’t care – they’re crazy!]. Humanity is all but extinct and most of the remaining people are being farmed for their blood.
The momentary bursts of gore add impetus to the film’s set up, and the second act features some equally intriguing details – like the introduction of Lionel “My friends call me Elvis” Cormac, a man who has reversed the process and gone from vampire to human, and the underground railway that finds the few unfarmed humans and tries to keep them safe. Then there’s Ed brother, Frankie [Michael Forman] and Bromley’s human daughter, Alison [Isobel Lucas]…
Unfortunately, the film does fall apart, beginning to show signs of failing as early as the introduction of Cormac, and hitting full throttle just as the final act begins. From there it’s an overabundance of chases and exploding vampires – and the film’s allegorical sub-text [AIDS, the gas shortage, the Holocaust – take your pick] is lost in viscera and noise.
While it’s fun to watch serious thespians like Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe sick their teeth/fangs into this spiralling out of control B-movie dementia, the third act almost renders their fun pointless. But not quite. Even though there are more unintentional laughs than intentional ones over the last half of Daybreakers, the good stuff manages to – just barely – hold our interest to the bittersweet end.
Give The Spierig Brothers full credit for building a unique world and bringing fresh twists to the vampire genre. In a way, given the duo’s ability to build a mood and take crazy risks within a specific genre, they remind me of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo behind the Crank movies. They’re more restrained in most ways, but their damn-the-torpedos attitude and crazy technical chops are genuinely refreshing. I’ll definitely be interested to see what they do next.
Final Grade: B-