Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Daybreakers

After its theatrical release, there has already been a lot of talk and reviews of Daybreakers, the second full-length outing by Australia’s Spierig Brothers, who were behind the 2003 semi-cult Zombie extravaganza Undead. So I won’t bore you with many particulars.

It’s 2019, and the script has broken the genre stereotypes by granting us a vision of vampires that has seldom been visited before: they govern the world, and a massive corporation has seen fit to round up the last of the human race for consumption lest the population succumb to extinction. This in itself is fascinating and holds a mirror up to our own world to promote endless discussion. The sphere has been flipped but is ultimately the same: blood is merely a metaphor for resources like food and oil. A veritable hornets nest of ethical and moral questions then present themselves ... as those that are left try to find a substitute or cure for the life-force of survival.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is one such individual, a hematologist working for a pharmaceutical company. His allegiance to his kindred race is waning … fuelled by slowly-eradicating memories and the farming of the race he once belonged to (think of a Matrix-like landscape of human production lines). Impeding the work is another addition to vampire society: a ghastly sub-species that has succumbed to blood malnourishment and is living in the squalid depths of depravity, feasting on anything and severely deformed.  

Daybreakers is like an American and Australian hybrid of a movie, and at the beginning, this can be grating. Obvious Australian back-drops, accents, and actors have been merged with American enterprise and this comes off cheap. Initially, the dialogue is awkward and juvenile (and somewhat embarrassing), but as our story chugs along, the lines are blurred, a stride is found, and everything becomes one. Visually, the concepts that come to life are spectacular, and I can only fantasise about how fun it was for the story-board artists and imaginers. The Sun, in particular, is mined like a character itself, and I was happily reminded of some of the awesome planetary sequences in Pitch Black (another one filmed in Australia), whereby we are granted a feast for the senses. Dark and gothic, the cities are transformed into a cimmerian wonderland of black elegance. Let’s be honest, the vampires here just look cool. And seeing an entire population of transformed eyes will appeal to any purveyor of the macabre. There is also a disquieting element, and the images associated with the holocaust are palpable.

Like other films of this stripe, there is an uprising of the repressed (in this case the humans, led by Willem Dafoe). Having an established acting cartel does bring the film to greater heights, and I have a feeling it would be much impoverished without Ethan Hawke’s sympathetic performance. There will also be many discussions about the type of vampire presented, for traditional dispatching methods are not brought into effect until the end.

Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with Daybreakers. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a long road the brothers have in store for us …

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review: Carriers

A unique apocalypse has devastated the world, and brothers Brain and Danny are on a pilgrimage across the country to their childhood haunt … a holiday house on the ocean where perhaps they can weather the storm of an airborne virus that infects its human hosts with ultimate death. Tagging along with the brothers are Brian’s girlfriend Bobby and their friend Kate. When encountering a father and his infected daughter who have run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, their trip takes a detour where they will discover they have more to fear from each other than a lethal virus. 
From the out-set, we are only given cursory hints as to what the world (and our individuals) have been dealt – and this works. The mystery could entail many things on the menu: most notably zombies, but it manages to avoid the old tropes and goes straight for the heart. I use the word ‘unique’ as this is a film that has taken a different route from others in the genre. Sure, there are shades of many of its predecessors. Most notably movies like 28 Days Later, and literature like The Stand and Night Surf. But Carriers is infused with a domestic human element that makes it worthy of distinctive praise. Throughout, we are treated to some genuinely disturbing moments as our characters try to deal with the illness - like the dilemma that is so pertinent to Zombie films: after infection occurs the pretence goes on that they are not infected … and should they divulge that they are? It’s designed in a way to make the viewer feel contaminated, and more than once I found myself wiping a hand on my sleeve. It does lack gore and action, but the real violence boils down to the callous lengths people will go to when their own survival is questioned.  

Someone pointed out recently that the current crop of horror movies being released to DVD is in a downward spiral. They may be right, but every so often a film like Carriers comes along and stems the flow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Different Masks

In a desire to show the universe that I haven’t been entirely blocked over time, I’ve decided, for a bit of fun, to put up my novel Davey Ribbon on the interwebs in installments.

Many years ago – probably during the 90’s I thinking - it would have been unthinkable to have your unpublished novel displayed for any individuals to read in such an intimate and prolific setting. The tales were carried around in the fabled ‘trunk’ – or existed on a floppy disk. Why not take advantage of this tech and broadcast that ‘dreaming awake’ state a bourgeoning writer carries around with him or her all the time?  

As it currently stands, Davey Ribbon is around four hundred pages. The material you see online is raw and un-edited … but that’s what I love about working on it: it’s the first thing put to page that feels like celluloid in its construction (albeit without any collaboration) – with dozens of scenes having been deleted or re-written, and ‘The End’ written on two separate occasions only to be erased and continued. So, have a read and tell me what you think. It’s not in sequential order so forgive me for making you scroll down.

Many submissions have taken place recently and it seems I'm finally getting my shit together. These include Midnight Echo 5, Afterburn SF, the latest Chizine competition, and also the AHWA one. Even if no results are yielded it sure feels good to be in the game and submitting regularly ...  

I’m writing this on Saturday June the 5th. A few days ago, my Tonkinese cat had to be put to sleep. Oscar and I had been inseparable for thirteen years and it was an agonizing decision to make: although relatively healthy in all outward appearances his large intestine had been playing havoc for years, causing unfathomable constipation that not even daily doses of syrup could remedy. It’s strange to think how much they are entwined in your life: he was here, by my side, for every word written at this desk, every guitar riff written on the chair next to me, every good and bad movie – and every episode of The Simpson’s repeated hundreds of times. We know they are mortal and their span is diminished compared with ours. That notion, however, does not salve the pain when the advent occurs. I’ll miss you greatly my old friend, and even if I live to be an old man I’ll still remember you fondly as the greatest being I knew on this side of the veil …