Saturday, June 11, 2011

More Average Than Anything Else, Daybreakers Is A Decent Science Fiction/Horror Distraction.

The Good: Good effects, Decent premise, Moments of performance
The Bad: Pacing issues, Light on character development
The Basics: Fun but underwhelming, Daybreakers entertainingly explores a world where vampires have taken over and are on the verge of eating themselves into extinction!

I think one of the weaknesses of the average reviewer is that the middle is inadequately represented. For sure, we want to have a firm up or down, yes or no, buy or not buy to everything and ultimately here we get that with the “recommend” or “not recommend.” But when we watch movie previews and wonder if we should go see the film, more often than not, readers want to know that the film is either the best or worst film ever and they want to know why. Sadly, for those looking into seeing Daybreakers, I can’t give you that catharsis of the extremes. Ultimately, the movie is good and worth watching for anyone who likes science fiction or horror, but beyond that, it’s a fairly predictable, underwhelming and . . . well, typical Hollywood special effects film that seems more familiar than it does audacious.

That said, Daybreakers is thrilling escapism and it plays well for those who enjoy the current popularity of vampires in mainstream U.S. culture. This film has a more classic interpretation of vampires and as a result, it also capitalizes on the current obsession with contagions (as represented by the prevalence of zombie films in recent years) and treats vampirism as something of a disease. The kicker is, most of the world in Daybreakers is comprised of vampires and they are not friendly, morally stand-up vampires like in Angel. There is nothing sexy or fun about these vampires; they are ruthless, they control the world and they are desperate for human blood.

In 2019, Earth is run by vampires. They seem generally happy on Earth, feeding when they want, owning everything and looking at immortality as a gift that leaves them the chosen ones over the few remaining humans. But scientists at Bromley Marks understand that the dominance of the vampire is dependent upon a plentiful human blood supply, as evidenced by the emergence of subsiders, monstrous creatures that resemble bats and are what unfed vampires turn into when they starve. Looking to prevent the bulk of the population from devolving into crazed animals, Charles Bromley charges his scientists, most notably Edward Dalton, with finding a substitute to human blood that vampires can live on.

Fighting for the survival of humanity is Elvis, who has been cured of his vampirism, and Audrey, who is a human who Edward has feelings for. Elvis represents what Edward truly needs, though, as a cure to vampirism would prevent the population from becoming animals and the two fight as the human population – most of it kept on ice for vampire consumption – dwindles.

Daybreakers is a decent concept for a film, but it feels familiar in some ways and probably because of the prevalence of contagion films in recent years, this seems more a variation on the medical experiment vein than the vampire or zombie flick. To that end, Edward Dalton seems familiar to anyone who has seen I Am Legend and the film seems more obsessed with maintaining the conventions of contemporary film than actually defying them. To wit, the romantic subplot between Edward and Audrey seems forced and the antagonistic aspect of Charles Bromley seems generic.

Charles Bromley, Edward and even Elvis have some of the same goals and rather than becoming a piece that rises above the stereotypes and is about accepting the consequences of eliminating a contagion against humanity, Daybreakers devolves into a “kill the villain” film. In this way, the film adequately illustrates that no matter what appetites may change for humanity, greed will still reign and that controlling the food supply truly does mean controlling the world. Even so, while the film starts with a compelling conflict that could actually have disparate elements coming together in unforeseen ways, the movie instead falls into routines and patterns that seem more familiar and banal than truly groundbreaking.

Similarly, the special effects in Daybreakers are nothing we haven’t seen before. The morphs for the subsiders are familiar, though the effects department does a decent job of keeping the “reality” of the unreal creatures in the film consistent. Make-up effects throughout the film are decent and hold the interest of viewers and fortunately, the vampires are not “Twilight” style cuddly, underwhelming vampires. Daybreakers has fangs, blood and a sense of menace. Human are the snacks and the film is consistently harrowing for the human characters, even if the soundtrack occasionally telegraphs that menace.

The best acting in the film comes from Willem Dafoe, who plays Elvis. Dafoe plays desperate well and in Daybreakers, he gets to mix the vulnerable with the dangerous and he does that masterfully. Outside him, the acting is pretty blasé. Ethan Hawke is very white bread as Edward, though to be fair, it seems to be in the writing of the character more than the actor’s performance. Similarly, Sam Neill plays Bromley with a monolithic quality that seems entirely familiar. I cannot think of a film I’ve seen where Neill has played a villain, but his performance in this did not surprise me at all. Instead, it seemed like a very limited emotional range for the character.

But there is the difficult aspect of Daybreakers; none of the characters truly pop. It is hard to empathize with the characters as they are either “types” or they are so far removed from their humanity that the viewer does not identify with them. Because most of the human population is either transformed or awaiting exsanguination, there is a bleakness that none of the characters overcome. Even so, Daybreakers is entertaining. I was tempted to write “solidly entertaining,” but even there, the movie is not all it could be. The middle drags and when the inevitable action resurges, Daybreakers picks back up, but the pacing is erratic.

But for those looking for entertainment and nothing deeper, Daybreakers will fit the bill. It has decent action-adventure and enough excitement to keep the blood running in your veins. But it does not transcend the genre; it’s not great filmmaking or storytelling by any means.

For other vampire films, please check out my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Blade: Trinity
Let The Right One In


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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