Daybreakers


Ethan Hawke tends bar.

Ethan Hawke tends bar.

(2009) Horror (Lionsgate) Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Vince Colosimo, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas, Claudia Karvan, Paul Sonkkila, Mungo McKay, Emma Randall, Charlotte Wilson, Christopher Kirby, John Gibson, Carl Rush, Tiffany Lamb, Robyn Moore, Michelle Atkinson, Glen Martin, Damien Garvey, Jay Laga’aia, Chris Brown, Kirsten Cameron, Candice Storey. Directed by Michael and Peter Speirig

Don’t we all just love those movie trailers that begin with the immortal words “In a world…”? This should have had a trailer like that (and maybe it did) but it might begin “In a world where 95% of the population are vampires.” Now wouldn’t that grab your attention?

Edward Dalton (Hawke) is a hematologist. No big deal to thee and me but in a world (there’s that phrase again) full of vampires it’s an important position, particularly in a world (and yet again) where humans are dying off, meaning the planet’s food supply is hitting critical mass, it’s an important job. Dalton has been tasked by the vampire equivalent of Big Pharma, a company called Bromley Marks, to develop a human blood substitute that vampires can subsist on. Easier said than done since vampires by their nature have rather delicate constitution; a test sample literally causes the subject’s head to explode. Yikes!

This does not make chairman Charles Bromley (Neill) a happy man needless to say and Edward’s day only gets worse on the drive home when he gets into a car accident. Worse still, the car is full of renegade humans. Edward, more of a reluctant vampire who has an aversion to human blood, protects them when the police arrive.

More bad news when he gets home. Edward’s brother Frankie (Dorman) pays him a surprise visit. The brothers have been estranged for some time; Frankie works as a soldier in the human-hunting vampire army and the two have shall we say severe philosophical differences. The two are attacked by a subsider, a bestial vampire who haven’t fed for some time who have lost their memories and identity and exist solely as a slave to their hunger for blood, doesn’t matter whose. The entire vampire race is in danger of becoming these subsiders if a new blood source isn’t found soon. In fact, Bromley candidly admits that Bromley Marks only has about a month’s supply left.

Audrey (Karvan), the leader of the humans that Edward had encountered the previous night, sends him a note to meet her in a desolate spot. There she introduces him to Elvis (Dafoe), a former vampire who has returned to human form again. Edward is excited at the prospect of regaining his humanity and once more venturing out into the sunlight, something vampires are unable to do. He agrees to help Elvis discover how to safely administer the cure.

In the meantime desperation has led to chaos in the vampire community and Edward becomes cognizant of the fact that those who stand to benefit from a blood shortage are the ones who would also benefit from a cure never reaching the vampire community. Games of politics and power are afoot and both the human and vampire species hang in the balance. Can Edward and his human allies get the cure out to the vampires before both species go extinct?

The brothers Speirig got this gig on the strength of Undead, their clever and innovative 2003 zombie movie. This isn’t quite up to those standards, although I will admit their vision of a vampire society ruling the globe is intelligently thought out. The vampire society is believable as an extension of our own, with similar values albeit a more cavalier attitude towards morality. Although not by much.

For those of us who love B-movies, there is plenty here to love – nasty creatures, plenty of gore and violence, a bit of sexiness and some over-the-top visuals. Everything to pander to the baser instinct of the moviegoer which is not in and of itself a bad thing. Sometimes we need the schlock entertainment of a good grindhouse movie. Quentin Tarantino recognizes that and more and more filmmakers have come to understand just how informed our society is by these movies.

The sense of humor here is quirky and a bit on the sick side, so if you like your jokes punctuated by exploding body parts, this will no doubt appeal to you. Most of the action sequences with a couple of exceptions are well-staged and exciting, although not what you would call game-changing. Nothing new here, but what is here is well-executed.

I wish I could say the same about the cinematography and visual effects. Due to their aversion to UV light, the vampires live their lives essentially indoors and in bunker-like conditions. This makes for murky atmospherics made worse when there seems to be a constant out-of-focus element to the photography. Now perhaps I got a poorly processed disc for home viewing but everything looked like it was filmed with bad fluorescent lighting, making everything look dreary. The CGI are likewise slapdash and could have used a bit of refinement.

Other than that this is solidly entertaining and Hawke, while not one of his better roles, at least makes a game effort for a genre he has admitted he’s not terribly fond of. Dafoe is, well, Dafoe and that should tell you all you need to know about his performance. Most of the rest of the cast are fairly unknown here in the States (this is an Australian production; the German-born brothers Speirig have lived there since boyhood) but are pretty competent. While this is more of an action film, I did miss the sensuality that most vampire films tend to have; it could have used a little more of it.

Still in an era where vampire movies have essentially lost their luster due to the Twilight/Vampire Chronicles generation, this is one of those rarities – a vampire movie that actually appeals to more than the preteen female audience. It is appealing in an ironic sort of way that the vampire protagonist here shares a first name with the romantic focus of Twilight. I for one am happy to champion these sorts of films if it means that we can get the nastier monsters of old that we used to love to fear.

WHY RENT THIS: B-Movie goodness. A sick sense of humor while not for everybody, was good for some intentional laughs.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dark and murky cinematography. Cringe-worthy CGI.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly strong bloody violence, brief nudity and a fair amount of cursing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After being filmed in 2007, the movie sat on the studio shelf for more than a year before being released overseas. It’s American release was on January 8, 2010 – nearly three years after filming had been completed.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a short film the Speirig brothers directed from 2000 that gives a good sense of their visual style, as well as a gallery showing the various lobby posters and marketing for the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $51.4M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stake Land
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Case 39

New Releases for the Week of January 8, 2010


New Releases for January 8, 2010

Amy Adams decides to pack up her things and head for a movie where an Oscar nomination is at least possible.

LEAP YEAR

(Universal) Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott, John Lithgow, Noel O’Donovan, Tony Rohr, Pat Laffan, Alan Devlin. Directed by Anand Tucker

A young woman tires of waiting for her commitment-phobic boyfriend to propose to her. She discovers an old Irish tradition that allows for a woman to propose to a man on Leap Day and, lo and behold, he is going to be in Dublin on Leap Day. She hops on a plane, expecting to be there in plenty of time, but bad airplanes, bad weather and bad luck conspire to strand her on the other side of the Emerald Isle. She enlists the help of a studly local to get her to Dublin on time which paves the way for much bickering, and anybody who’s ever seen a Hollywood romantic comedy knows what that leads to.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for sensuality and language)

Broken Embraces

(Sony Classics) Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portilla, Rossy de Palma. Legendary Spanish director returns with his latest movie, a thriller about a writer and former movie director who is blinded in a car crash that also takes the life of his lover. Devastated, he adopts the pseudonym that he had been using as a writer and leaves his real name, which he had used as a director, to die in the car crash. Fourteen years later, he is moved to tell the story of his tribulations to a young man who has also been injured in a car crash, and the story moves from being mere entertainment to pass the time to something much deeper…and darker.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drug material)

Daybreakers

(Lionsgate) Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan. When a plague turns the majority of the human population into vampires (take that, Edward Cullen!) the shrinking human population must be captured and farmed for blood. As their food supply dwindles, a substitute for human blood must be found. However, a covert group of vampires discovers something remarkable, something that might just save the human race from extinction.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

(Sony Classics) Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp. Director Terry Gilliam once again creates a unique and imaginative fantasy. Dr. Parnassus, the owner of a travelling show, carries with him a dark and terrible secret; he made a deal with the devil for immortality in exchange for the soul of his firstborn when she reaches her 16th birthday. With that date rapidly approaching, Dr. Parnassus renegotiates the deal; the first of the two of them to seduce five souls wins. The good doctor must use every trick up his sleeve to save the soul of his precious daughter. This was Ledger’s last movie before his tragic passing; he had only partially completed filming. The movie was re-written, allowing several actors – including Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – to fill the role for the rest of the action.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking)

Youth in Revolt

(Dimension) Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi. A somewhat mousy young man falls in love with a free-spirited girl during a family vacation. With geography, family and the girl’s ex-boyfriends all conspiring against him, he decides (with the encouragement of the object of his affections) to create a worldly alter-ego that she can truly fall for. However, the new him goes hopelessly out of control, leading to mayhem and just maybe, love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and drug use)