Friday, October 08, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Daybreakers (2009, directed by Peter and Michael Spierig) is one of those maddening films that has loads of interesting ideas built into its premise, but which never the less turns into a run of the mill genre programmer. It's kind of a waste, actually. What you get is so much less than the movie promises during its first thirty minutes or so.

The set up is magnificent: Vampires have taken over the world and hunted humans to the verge of extinction. Now they face extinction themselves as their blood supply runs out. The whole thing initially reminded me of the end of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (the book, none of the movies), when Neville sees the inevitability of the new vampire society and implores Ruth "Don't let it get...too brutal. Too heartless." This is the future that did get too brutal.

The story finds hematologist Ethan Hawke desperately working to find a substitute for human blood. An unwilling vampire, he eschews blood when he can, and finds himself degenerating into one of the enraged mutated vampires that the dominant class call "subsiders." He works for a vast corporation tasked with farming human blood even as it tries to find a substitute. Hawke's boss, played as the worst kind of elitist capitalist by Sam Neill, has no intention of completely replacing human blood. Rather, he wants to make it into an expensive delicacy. Meanwhile Hawke's character is contacted by the ragtag human underground, who appear to have stumbled onto a cure for vampirism that they don't understand, while his soldier brother--soldiers in this future are tasked with rounding up humans--is keeping tabs on him because he's been acting funny. The chase is on.

Hawke is good in his role, which occasionally requires him to look like a heroin addict. He's an underrated actor and he sells the part pretty well. Sam Neill could play his role in his sleep--he's been playing these kinds of characters since he played Damien Thorne in The Omen III. He's fun to watch, but he doesn't overreach, especially during the subplot involving his daughter, who refused to turn vampire. It's a humanizing touch, but he's still a rat bastard. Willem Defoe's character is a caricature, really. The wise human leader who fancies himself as Elvis. I can watch Defoe in most things, but this isn't his best role. The movie unfortunately provides a love interest, too, played by Claudia Karvan, but it doesn't really explore it. This is a surprisingly sexless movie for a vampire epic.

As I say, this is all really interesting, and the first part of the movie extrapolates its premise with a fair amount of rigor. While it's doing this, you can't take your eyes off of it. Hell, even the metaphor for bloodsucking capitalism is handled with aplomb. The second half, when the plot really kicks in, is disappointing: It becomes a stock action/horror movie with an unsatisfying "happy" ending. Frankly, we've seen all that before. This is the kind of movie that comforts the audience that no matter how dire the future may become, everything will ultimately be alright. It does this after littering the screen with dead bodies, which seems to put this impulse into some doubt, but it pursues this idea to the very end. And for my money, a horror movie should never set out to comfort an audience. But maybe that's just me...

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 11

First Time Viewings: 11

1 comment:

- said...

True story: Lions Gate optioned my vampire world screenplay right before they put this one into production. Mine is considerably better, but also considerably more expensive. They basically paid me to take my story out of circulation for a few years so there would be no competition. Also strangely, some elements of my story that were original to my piece ended up in this film. But I made some cash, so it's okay I guess. Hollywood!