>Movie Review: Daybreakers

>Guys, Daybreakers is really bad. Painfully bad. The same night I rented it (for a dollar, from the bounty of the Redbox) I also purchased three DVDs for a full cost of $10 from the Smith’s where I do my grocery shopping. Those films (Knight Club, Spreading Ground, and Meet Market) are all completely unknown to me. I picked up one because it has Dennis Hopper, one because it had Julian McMahon and Alan “The Tudes” Tudyk, and one because it’s about a secret organization of bouncers either run, or about to be betrayed, by Lou Diamond Phillips (The box doesn’t tell you who stars in each role). I do not anticipate that these will be incredible films, though I suspected each would a bare minimum exceed the quality of Mazes and Monsters, which was an option.

In brief, Daybreakers is about a near future where vampirism is rampant across the entire globe. They never explain where the vampirism comes from, or what it represents (A disease? A curse? Interbreeding?), and frankly I cherish that. One of the biggest frustrations for me in watching vampire films is how much time they tend to devote to explaining all of those things. They’ll have the scene with the cross, or the character conveniently chopping up some garlic for a nice Italian dinner, and then the vampire busts in so the director can confirm or disconfirm some typical vampire myth.

Instead, the film focuses on the prospect of starvation vampires are facing. While we’re presented with a well-ordered, fancy vampire society, news broadcasts and a special meeting make it clear that the human blood supply is running low. The meeting goes further, illustrating how vampires deprived of vampire blood gradually devolve into monstrous, feral bat-men. Ethan Hawke portrays one of the vampires’ top blood researchers, desperately attempting to master an artificial blood system before the humans in the bank all expire and rioting reaches catastrophic levels (In the US; it’s pretty clear that it’s already there in third-world countries). Of course, some plucky humans kidnap Hawke and try to put him to use in their own project.

There are some nice touches. At one point, when a group of humans are taken by the vampire army (Which still recruits using Uncle Sam on its posters), a baby audibly cries in its mother’s arms. The audience never sees the child, but it’s a subtle reminder of the sheer scope of horror in the vampires’ hunger.

I won’t pretend the plot isn’t interesting; it’s a clever reversal of the typical vampire myth, mixed with a little disaster movie and a little zombie movie. Those merits, honestly, could have applied to Ultraviolet as well (The movie, not the British TV show). Daybreakers also has a unique visual style, washed out and pale during the daylight; with a slight retro, WWII aesthetic. Minus the last part, that’s reminiscent of Blade; possibly the greatest vampire-killing movie of all time.

However.

I originally had the impression that the human resistance somehow made use of exploding arrows in all of their crossbows, given the pyrotechnics that result from every shot…except for the bolt Hawke takes through his arm at the beginning of the movie. It wasn’t until the film’s last-minute attempt at action, with Hawke running around ramming chair legs into vamp chests, that it became clear vampires simply explode when you poke them…like balloons, if we filled them with fire.

Ethan Hawke ends up dressed like Robin of Loxley, and I can’t produce any logical argument as to why. Willem Dafoe can’t manage a southern accent, and by the end of the movie he’s abandoned it entirely. What’s unfortunate is there’s no more reason for him to be southern than there is for his character, whose name is Lionel Cormac, to be nicknamed Elvis. But he is. Sam Niell is great as the smug vamp banker, but he’s Sam Niell; even when he was playing the hero in Jurassic Park he still pantomimed disemboweling a chubby kid. The man is uniquely well-suited to menace.

However, the writing is so atrocious that no performance can save it. It trades heavily on short, terse statements meant to be full of dramatic weight. “You did the right thing.” “He was my brother.” “Run.” Unfortunately, all of the characters are flat and inexplicable, their histories total blanks, and their relationships lacking chemistry of any sort. More pathos is generated by the random, nameless vampires facing starvation throughout the film than anyone with a speaking role.

There’s also no consideration given by the characters to the fundamental failing behind the resistance’s plan. How can the main character, a man who works for a literal blood bank farming people, believe that a society is comprised of starving vampires desperate for blood, specifically human blood, and filled with individuals who cherish their immortality and immunity to disease, believe that a method capable of turning vampires back into humans is going to fix anything? It seems far, far more likely (Especially given the horrible nature of the cure itself) that they’d simply inflict the cure upon the lower vampiric classes, solving their population and food problems at once. Now, I do grant that the movie eventually provides a resolution to this quandry…but none of the characters consider the problem before the solution crops up. It was the very first thing that sprang to my mind.

I wanted Daybreakers to be good, both before I’d seen anything other than the trailer and after the film’s plot started to unfold. That the plot sports so many twists and reversals, and that they’re genuinely interesting, makes the shoddiness of the script and acting all the more disappointing. When I sit down to write a review of Knight Club, I expect I’ll be far more enthused.

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