'Daybreakers' offers fun horror with a bite
Vampires these days. When they're not moping about, sparkling
in the sunlight, or treading water in seas of angst, what do you have? Considerably less tweenage
girls in the audience, for one, but also a return to the solid horror of yore.
Daybreakers, boldly released during a time when audiences can cleverly say that vampires suck, is a refreshing blend of science fiction and horror, embracing its R rating with style, mood and unabashed fun.
Despite a somewhat hackneyed final act, Daybreakers manages to be entertaining and eerie throughout - two qualities modern horror movies have forsaken for graphic violence and gore, leaving little to the imagination.
While writer/director brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (The Big Picture) don't skimp on the blood, they've created a nightmarish setting that provokes just as many thoughts as chills.
It's the year 2019, a decade or so after a bat-borne virus has transformed the majority of humanity into vampires. With the undead vastly outnumbering the living, civilization shifts to accommodate its new inhabitants - coffee with blood and sugar for folks on their nightly work commute; toothpaste to keep those fangs bright and white; "subwalks" for daytime pedestrians and sun-proof cars for their driving counterparts.
The aptly titled Vampire Army, whose mascot is a fanged Uncle Sam, rounds up humans for blood harvesting at a pharmaceutical company owned by bloodsucking businessman Charles Bromley (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park). People buy their blood from Bromley, leaving hunting to the experts.
But as this society grows, the blood supply dwindles, and with fewer humans available for capture, life - or unlife - must find another way. For these vampires, blood deprivation means a fate worse than death, as those unfortunate devolve into feral beasts, nicknamed "subsiders."
With subsider incidents on the rise, company hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke, Training Day) is working on a synthetic blood substitute. He encounters a human called Elvis (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire), who was somehow cured of his vampirism, and learns there may be another way.
Never too fond of the vampire lifestyle anyway, Dalton agrees to help Elvis and his human cohorts find a cure for vampirism, placing him at odds with Bromley and the authorities, many of whom feel there's nothing to cure. With a blood substitute, Bromley could maximize profits, while allowing the human race to repopulate and serve as food for the more affluent vampires.
Daybreakers is quick-paced and visually striking, sucking viewers into its compelling setting and offering a decent plot to boot. But things get a bit messy, both literally and figuratively, in the final act, as the narrative is thrown by the wayside and all hell seems to break loose.
Hawke is convincing as Dalton, playing his protagonist as a film-noir vampire, weary of his world, seeking some sort of redemption, and chain-smoking throughout.
Dafoe takes a different approach, breathing life into an otherwise dead world and having a good time doing so. He gleefully hams it up, playing Elvis as a crossbow-toting badass, provoking unexpected chuckles during otherwise ominous moments.
Neill plays an effective villain and, as usual, is a pleasure to watch, though his limited screen time makes Bromley less than memorable, a fate reserved for most of Daybreakers' characters - two-dimensional, but aware of the fact.
Instead, Daybreakers thrives in its concept, a fresh take on a stale genre. Its moody setting grips viewers right away, offering a ghoulish glimpse into the night-to-night goings-on in this nocturnal city, from undead children wised well beyond their years to the paled baristas grinding beans next to blood bags.
If more time were spent exploring this culture and building its characters, Daybreakers would have been that much better. As it is, it's still a bloody good time.
Daybreakers, rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.