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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.23%
Worth A Look45.16%
Just Average: 16.13%
Pretty Crappy: 32.26%
Sucks: 3.23%

3 reviews, 13 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Vampires that are worth the light of day."
4 stars

I, as a rule, hate vampires. Ask anybody who knows me, they've heard me rant on how ridiculous the concept is and how ludicrously it's been perverted in order to sex it up. I've had to back off that a bit a bit lately, though - getting movies as good as "Let the Right One In" and "Thirst" in back-to-back years certainly shows you that there's some life in the undead yet. "Daybreakers" isn't in the same stratum as those movies, but they make a case from the opening scene that they've got an interesting take on the subject.

It's roughly "now + ten years" (2019), and most of the world's population has become vampires, I Am Legend-style. For the most part, they're not feral - although going too long without uninfected blood mutates them from reasonable people with fangs and red eyes to bat-like "subsiders", and drinking infected blood accelerates the process - but they've got trouble: The vampire far outnumbers the human population, which creates a real supply-and-demand problem. Vampire hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is working on a synthetic blood supply, but an encounter with fugitive humans Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan) and Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Willem Dafoe), puts him on the trail of a possible cure. His employer Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) isn't so sure of that, though, and sends soldiers after Dalton - including his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman).

Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig - who previously made the low-budget but highly entertaining Undead - are credited as writing, directing, and supervising the visual effects, and to say that they've got an eye for detail is to understate things just a bit. Much attention is paid to how a world primarily inhabited by vampires would function, from vanity mirrors that are actually a combination camera and viewscreen to news reports that mention that vampire animals combusting in the sun are now the leading cause of forest fires. There are times when I'd almost argue that people are too well adapted to being vampires, although at the speed things can change in the twenty-first century, it seems less a stretch than it might have a generation ago. The ability of people to adapt to a new world order is one of the themes that the Spierigs are playing with here, and it's perhaps telling that while the glowing yellow eyes, fangs, et al are initially jarring, we're soon taking vampires as Earth's dominant species for granted.

That's just one idea that the Spierigs have tapped into. The really nifty thing that they have done is to use the tropes of horror with the attitude of science fiction. They don't need to explain the biomechanics vampirism in any particular detail - although their take on it does make the immediate emotional sense, like all good horror- but they do work hard on extrapolating it. The result is a world that is a funhouse mirror of our own, and able to comment on everything from peak oil to vegetarianism to minority-bashing to corporate greed without the analogy seeming trite or forced. It's a new world, but we've got all our same problems, and some, like the willingness to dehumanize and disenfranchise anybody who is different, are bigger than ever.

This isn't a solemn, reflective movie, however. Discussions about ethics are almost always directly related to the action, and there's plenty of that. There are some bits that we've seen before - the beams of light penetrating a vampire's blacked-out car almost has to be a call-out to Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, although with a high-tech twist and a clever turn. Still, they're well-mounted and a bit exciting, and impressive in how, it the middle of a fire-fight, the filmmakers will remember that they're not just making an action movie with vampires, but a horror movie, and throw something disturbing beyond the gross-out level in. Though some of the effects are a little iffy - some of they mayhem looks a bit low-budget and the digital work in the opening bit is a slight knock on something that could be a nifty short film on its own - others are very good, and used well (quality stakes to the heart).

The cast is also pretty good. Certainly, the main cast can be relatively subdued - Hawke and Dorman have Serious Brother Drama to attend to, while Karvan's Audrey can sometimes be a generic Woman In Charge (irony: in the abstract, it's kind of refreshing that any forced romantic subplot is either missing or excised, but with a character frequently quoting "Burning Love", I might have liked that as an end credits song). Some of the members of the supporting cast see the chance to cut loose and take it, though - Sam Neill seems to be having a great time as the amoral corporate honcho, playing the villain without covering the part in ham. Dafoe seems a little less concerned about that as Elvis, attacking this guy who's not as smart as the folks around him but certainly not intimidated by that with gusto.

Dafoe seems to be having just as much fun as the audience. There are some missed opportunities in "Daybreakers", but they're the type that indicate that the filmmakers have created a world that merits a little more exploration; it's the rare movie where TV/comic book/licensed novel spinoff seem like things that might be worth seeking out. Most vampire mythologies are secretive and predictable; this one's got surprises.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18369&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/13/10 19:40:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell decent no more no less 3 stars
6/22/13 The Big D Somewhere up in heaven Bela Lugosi is wearing a paper bag over his head! 1 stars
1/01/11 mr.mike The earth did not move for me. 2.5 stars 3 stars
10/24/10 CMrok93 Surprisingly good movie. Only 98 minutes and to the point. Very interesting take on vampire 3 stars
5/18/10 gc A clever premise for a vampire movie 3 stars
5/16/10 JK Great premise, terrible execution, empty characters, no suspense. Wasted potential.. 2 stars
3/12/10 Never An awful film. Although I do have to agree that the premise was rather good. 2 stars
2/21/10 Ero Definitely a guarentee for a good time! 5 stars
1/24/10 ravenmad Different. Didn't make sense. Bad ending. 2 stars
1/21/10 Ming I love this film.. lots of great vampire scenes 4 stars
1/19/10 Mike Finally, vampires in a horror/suspense movie instead of a teen/romance movie. 4 stars
1/15/10 othree sosovamps bad, humans good, predictable Neill Dafoe 1 line lamerific, prob better story 2 stars
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  08-Jan-2010 (R)
  DVD: 11-May-2010

  06-Jan-2010 (15)

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  DVD: 11-May-2010

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