Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/10/10 18:12:37

2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Hereís an example of an interesting premise without much of a movie to put it in.

Daybreakers posits a world, nine years in our future, in which vampires have become the dominant life form. They go about their lives, guarding against the sun and drinking their coffee with a dash of human blood. Problem is, the vamps are running out of humans, so their scientists ó including vamp hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) ó are working on a substitute for blood. Edward is one of the nicer vampires; he was turned into one against his will, so he still has some compassion for humans, which will get him in trouble.

As I said: cool premise, with a touch of allegory. But Daybreakers is a dreary-looking and sluggish narrative that doesnít go anywhere special. This is the overdue second feature by the twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, whose 2003 debut was the antic but derivative Undead. The new film is equally derivative but nowhere near as lively; the look is consistently blue and gloomy, and only Willem Dafoe as a rebel human who calls himself Elvis supplies any levity whatsoever. The existence that the vampires want so desperately to maintain seems awfully drab.

Daybreakers has been praised for the details of its world-building, but in truth the Spierigs donít go much beyond a few broad strokes. Which wouldnít be as much of a problem if any of the human characters had a little humanity (other than Dafoe) and any of the vampires were even a little exotic. As it is, the vampires are essentially just people who need to drink blood and have fangs and amber-colored eyes. Thereís another interesting idea ó a subculture of homeless vampires who canít get blood regularly and turn into horrific bat-like creatures called ďsubsiders.Ē But not a whole lot is done with them, either. Theyíre brought in at intervals, as if to remind us this is a horror movie.

Except it isnít. Itís more of a science-fiction dystopia borrowing heavily from Richard Mathesonís I Am Legend, with a side order of Gattaca. We also get the expected action-movie beats; at least twice, a villain gets the drop on a hero, only to be dispatched by an offscreen savior who has arrived just in time. The Spierigs clearly put more thought into the premise than into the script, which proposes a laughable cure for vampirism and includes a corporate character (Sam Neill, who manages to be suave when he isnít spattered with blood) who makes no sense at all.

The best vampire movie in recent years remains 2008ís Let the Right One In, which didnít bother much with the whys and wherefores of vampirism ó in short, the nerdy stuff ó and focused on the relationship between the human and the inhuman. The Twilight movies, goofball as they are, work the same side of the street. Daybreakers doesnít deal with relationship stuff at all, other than a barely sketched-in conflict between Edward and his soldier brother. Iím not saying a vampire movie has to be heavy on the drama, but Daybreakers offers virtually nothing in its place. As with Undead, it seems to have been made so that the Spierigs could include a scene of a bad-ass hero slaying monsters with his cool modified gun (in this case, a crossbow/shotgun).

Maybe the Spierigs should go into weapons design. It seems to be whatís closest to their hearts.

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