Sunday, 17 January 2010

Film Review: Daybreakers

Wot, more vampires? Really? The undead have enjoyed a bit of a resurrection lately thanks to the likes of 'True Blood', our own 'Being Human', the forthcoming (to the UK) 'Vampire Diaries' and, of course, the rather wet bloodsuckers of teen-screamer 'Twilight'. You might well think that the vampire well has run a bit dry lately but writer/director team Michael and Peter Spierig would beg to differ and they've created 'Daybreakers' which has just slipped into the multiplex without much fuss - which usually suggests a film too naff to be allowed to suffer the indignities of Press attention. Far from it here, though; 'Daybreakers' won't change your life and it won't rock your world but it manages, against the odds, to put a new spin on some over-familiar vampire tropes and it's a surprisingly-entertaining way of burning off 90-odd cinema minutes.

It's 2019 and a plague has swept across the Earth, turning most of the poulation into vampires - fanmgs, fear of sunlight, the lot - and the humans that remain are either kept alive as blood banks or else hunted to the point of extinction. The vampire/human race maintains all the trappings of human civilisation but catastrophe is close at hand as the human blood supply becomes scarce and plans to manufacture a blood substitute are stalling and, in any event, are facing considerable resistance from the vampires who'd rather drink the real thing - and I don't mean Coke. Sympathetic vampire scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), frustrated by the failure of his blood-substitute experiments, has a chance encounter with a group of rogue humans and is eventually recruited by crossbow-crazy Elvis (Willem "my parents couldn't spell William" Defoe) who needs Dalton's help if humanity is to be saved and the vampire plague cured. Meanwhile power-hungry corporate boss (and vampire) Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) has his own reasons for wanting the vampire race to be able to feast on real human blood.

'Daybreakers' is an unusual, engaging film. Stylishly shot in a way which suggests the near-future without over-egging its pudding, the movie actually manages to find a new twist on vampire mythology by making the creatures the dominant species and the human the ones on the run. Here the vampires have the upper hand, they're the ones in charge, they're the ones with the technology, the plague having allowed them, apparently overnight as it were, to have stepped into the shoes abandoned by those untouched - so we have vampire Police, vampire soldiers, vampire businessmen. There are other twists, too - vampires who don't feed regularly turn into grisly, feral winged bat-like creatures which forage underground and occasionally invade people's homes in search of the red stuff. Then there's the 'cure' to vampirism, which Dalton stumbles on almost by accident...

Despite the blood and the violence - and there's a lot of it for a 15-rated movie -'Daybreakers', probably due to a fairly low budget (which it spends wisely on a few set pieces), is a wordy movie with plenty of chat about the morality of humanity and the inhumanity (or otherwise) of vampirism. But the film really catches fire when it flares into action; fleeing humans surrounded by vampire soldiers emerging from the dark, the subterranean vampire attack on Dalton's home, the final blood-crazed vampire massacre and the strangely-brutal scene where a chain-gang of vampires are dragged screaming out into ther sunlight to meet their fiery fate. Ethan Hawke has a quiet charisma as Dalton, the vampire scientist who just won't drink the hard stuff and who is determined to find a way back for the human race; he's nicely counterpointed by the always-reliable Sam Neill as the vampire CO who'll even sacrifice his own human daughter for the sake of the advancement of the vampire species.

'Daybreakers' evokes lots of other movies - 'The Omega Man' and 'Pitch Black' amongst them - but it manages to bring something new to the vampire feeding table. It's clearly setting itself up for a run of sequels (I really wish it hadn't, though) and if you're tired of the fuss about 'Avatar' and fancy taking a chance on something darker, quirkier and, yes, shorter, 'Daybreakers' is well worth your time.

No comments: