The New Year begins with the fad that defined 2009 - vampires - as Daybreakers bites its way into theaters. The good news is that unlike Twilight: New Moon, Daybreakers features a clever concept and real, not-so-sparkly vampires; the bad news is that it's a poorly executed, hammy mess.
Daybreakers is set in the near future where most of the world's population has become vampires. Most of the remaining humans are farmed for their blood, and the rest spend their days hiding in the countryside. Unfortunately for the billions of vampires, the lack of humans means that their food source is running low, and as they are discovering, when vampires go hungry, they mutate from civilized nightwalkers to horrific, irrational monsters.
Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, the leading U.S. scientist tasked with finding a synthetic blood source that would satisfy the hunger of his countrymen and, he hopes, save humanity from extinction. When he encounters a band of humans who claim they have a cure to vampirism - not an alternative blood source, but an authentic cure - he realizes that it is finally time to make a move and save the world from itself.
The concept, frankly, is awesome. It's original - a world where vampires rule the world - and had the potential to be a vampire version of The Matrix. It's the concept that carries the movie as long as it does; Daybreakers could have been a fast-paced, action-packed and intriguing horror-drama. With a cast that features Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, there was no reason why Daybreakers couldn't have been great.
Note that I used "could" and "potential" a lot in that last paragraph. As good as Daybreakers could have been good, it is held back by terrible dialogue, plodding narrative and misguided direction by writing/directing team Michael and Peter Spierig.
As mentioned before, the concept carries Daybreakers as long as absolutely possible. That's about half the movie. Not a whole lot happens in the first half, but the potential for lots of excitement is so strong that all is forgiven. That is until it becomes clear that the movie is never going to pick up the pace, and the overly moody dialogue is digressing into pure crap.
The dialogue becomes nearly unbearable in the second half, to the point where people were laughing hysterically in the theater. Almost all of Dafoe's lines are cringe-inducing; it first appeared the dialogue was meant to be funny, but it soon became clear that the Spierig brothers intended everything in the movie to be overtly serious.
The level of seriousness is the biggest issue with Daybreakers. The Spierig brothers treat their vampire action-drama like it's The Godfather, and Daybreakers is not The Godfather. The filmmakers fall victim to hubris; they believe their movie is some massive epic, but in fact it's a B-grade vampire schlock film being released in January. Every scene is taken so seriously that after a while, the movie is just funny. Oddly, the picture is largely dialogue-based; it lacks the action and/or horror audiences were expecting. The only semblances of horror are a few brief scenes with the mutated vampires, and several computerized, screeching bats that were apparently added after the studio executives saw what had happened to their millions of dollars. The movie is bogged down by moments of pure desperation, which happen more and more as the story progresses.
Every chance Daybreakers has to pick up the pace, the Spierigs tone it back, instead opting to give us "dramatic" slow-motion scenes of something happening. Perhaps due to studio pressure, they try to evoke some chemistry between Hawke's character and a human women, even though nothing substantial ever happens between the two of them. The scenes between the two are just dreadful, as shortly after meeting her Hawke is touching her face like they're long-lost lovers or they're holding hands like a 15-year old couple.
Speaking of studio pressure, the ending feels like it was massacred for the sake of setting things up for a sequel. It's clear how the ending should have unfolded (SPOILER ALERT), with the cure going viral as the vampires who have been turned back into humans are devoured by other hungry vampires, and so on and so forth. Or Hawke inserting his cure into the shipment of alternative blood that is going to be delivered to the world in a matter of days. Instead, we see the leads driving off into the sunset to a voice -over that sounds a lot like that of Neo's at the end of The Matrix, albeit without as much conviction.
Daybreakers had potential, and for as much as it squanders that potential, it is still mildly entertaining - even if some of that entertainment value isn't intentional. Nevertheless, this is a movie that could have so easily been much better, but the Spierig brothers needed to be honest with themselves about what kind of movie they were making.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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