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 …

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