New blood in the vampire genre ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, March 29, 2010

New blood in the vampire genre

My rating:

I may have spoken too soon when I mentioned that our venerated Lembaga Penapisan Filem no longer censors foul language. Daybreakers suffered from their usual incompetent job at it, snipping out only the words that come after the offending expletive, and sometimes missing it altogether. Also, from what I read in other reviews, it seems they also censored a few references to pig's blood. Gaaaahh. It's like 1995 all over again, when Babe and Toy Story were almost banned. For these reasons, I can't recommend watching this film in cinemas.

I would have otherwise, because it's pretty good.

It is 2019, ten years after an epidemic turned the entire world into vampires - immortal, endangered by sunlight, and surviving on human blood. The remaining humans are hunted and harvested in the vaults of the Bromley Marks corporation, headed by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), who monopolizes the blood market. But humans are nearing extinction, which threatens to starve the world - and blood-deprived vampires are mutating into mindless, feral "subsiders" who attack other vampires. Hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) works to find a synthetic blood substitute; Dalton sympathizes with humans and has a strained relationship with his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), a soldier who hunts humans. Then Edward is contacted by Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Elvis (Willem Dafoe), members of the human resistance who find and hide surviving humans. Elvis was once a vampire, but became human again - and they want Edward to help them find a cure.

If you dig vampires but hate the Twilight brand of sparkly emo passive-aggressive pedophiles, then this is the movie for you. It's a bona fide horror movie, with plenty of blood and gore and jump-scares. But it's also a science-fictional exploration of a world in which vampires are the dominant species, and there are plenty of neat little touches to it. Skyscrapers are connected by covered walkways that protect against the sun; everyone drinks coffee with blood instead of cream; cars are modified with daytime driving modes in which windows are blacked out and replaced with exterior video feeds; and when a shadow falls over a bunch of ordinary pedestrians, their vampiric eyes glow malevolently. (Also, everyone smokes - 'cos if you're immortal, hey, why not?) This stuff is cool.

It's a pity then that the plot is kinda generic. As recently as a year ago, we had two entries in the dystopian sci-fi action movie genre, and Daybreakers hews quite closely to the formula - right down to the cannon-fodder resistance movement and the single villain who rules this world. Fortunately it's better than either Gamer or Surrogates. Not only is the world better-realised, it's also better-utilised - there's a chase sequence in which Dalton's blacked-out car is punctured by bullet holes, letting in deadly shafts of sunlight. Writer-directors Peter and Michael Spierig are good at adding clever details like this into their action scenes and making them feel fresh. There's also a subplot regarding Bromley's human daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas), who refuses to become a vampire; this not only explores the world even more, it gives added dimension to the film's nominal moustache-twirling villain.

Still, it's the world-building that this movie does best, and I wish they'd spent more time on that than yet another tear-down-the-dystopia action film plot. In fact, there's a sense that this world could've used a fair bit more fleshing out. If these vampires can only be killed by sunlight, stakes through the heart, and beheading - the traditional three means of killing vampires, all of which are seen here - does that mean they're impervious to normal damage? Does that mean they're tougher, stronger, faster than humans? We don't see that here. The cure for vampirism that Dalton eventually discovers feels too simple, even something of an Ass Pull. And then there's its premise as a metaphor for peak oil, which feels underdeveloped - or maybe I'm just shamefully ignorant of the issue.

That underdeveloped feeling extends to the characters as well. Dalton is just barely an adequate protagonist, and Ethan Hawke plays him competently if unremarkably; but it feels like more could've been made of his relationship with his brother. Frankie himself undergoes his own character arc - perhaps even more of one than Dalton's - but it feels like it's missing a few emotional beats. The aforementioned subplot with Bromley and his daughter is welcome, but it feels like an odd fit with the rest of the plot; even if Sam Neill does an old pro's job at playing both evil corporate tycoon and emotionally torn father, and Isabel Lucas shows far more acting chops than she did in her last movie. Even Elvis, who should've been this movie's Tallahassee, doesn't quite get enough screentime to make full use of Willem Dafoe.

But it's still a smart, imaginative film with a lot of fresh and cool takes on the vampire mythology. And it also doesn't forget how to be a horror movie; there's a nice tone of dread that suffuses the first half at least (the second half gets more action-y), and there's also all that gore that neatly straddles the line between genuinely horrific and cheesily over-the-top. It's probably unfair that I'd prefer it to be something it isn't, but its only real flaw is that it isn't something like Moon - a film that fully explores its premise without needing to throw in action scenes. Still, you can't really blame the Spierigs for wanting their film to be accessible, so by all means go watch it - but not in Malaysian cinemas, sadly.

NEXT REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon
Expectations: pretty high, from all the glowing reviews


profwacko said...

i like vampire's movie.

I think this movie's storyline is good but the director should more effort into the action and special effects, the mutated vampire, how the vampires burned, or beheaded. I think the movie is more like a B grade one.

One more i couldnt understand is the vampire have no reflections on the mirror. Y do this?

TMBF said...

That is one of the traditional characteristics of vampires.

profwacko said...

yes2, traditional one have these.. what i mean is in these modern world where vampires rules and appearance is important, the vampires cant see themself. lol. I think the director should just dont bother with the relection thing and concentrate more on other vampire traits.

btw, thanks for the reply. Just followed ur blog and i think its great for the reviews.