"I want some more."
In a world where vampire's are the dominant presence, a race is on to find a blood substitute before the supply of human blood runs out- a supply farmed from hunted and captured humans.
The first 10 minutes of Daybreakers had me convinced I was about to experience an undead Gattaca. Silently it made claims of exploring the inner workings of mainstream society of vampires. The social and emotional ramifications of a world where no one ages, no one gets sick, and there is only one viable source of food: the very people that this new population inherited it's society from. The very culture that everyone was once a part of. I was almost literally foaming at the mouth with anticipation.
And then a character randomly explodes in a shower of carnage- cut to me, heaving a disheartened sigh.
In terms of story this scene should evoke a sense of desperation and disappointment, but it was done with such a flare for the ridiculous that half the theater, including me, couldn't help but laugh through the tense aftermath.
In what is both a evidence for the defense and the prosecution, Daybreakers maintains this odd back and forth throughout a decent part of it's 98 minutes. Subtle observations on how a world like this might differ from (or resemble) our own are constantly seen back to back with garish, gory, action fodder. This is a feature I could live with were there some semblance of balance for the two sides. Unfortunately the Spierig Brother's blood lust proves unquenchable, especially in the finale, which takes that sad- though well shot- left turn*.
The performances are strong, if underwhelming and far from the best I've seen out of the likes of Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe (who plays his typical, idiosyncratic character- though it feels a bit forced this time around). Although I must give the brothers points for resisting those same, done-to-death lines when they find themselves in cinematically familiar situations, they have the occasional affinity for out of place monologues, that try to offer depth or insight but fall flat as a week old Coke.
Though rife with small social observations (my favorite being that in a society of the undead everyone smokes), Daybreakers doesn't endeavor to take it's subject any deeper. And the over the top action ranges from occasionally tense to mostly campy, with little to make up the mid-range. There will always be a place for the empty headed actioner, this is something I am will never petition. But I think, and stop me if I'm wrong here, we have enough shallow supernatural to go around these days. That within celestial tale of Twilight a movie featuring the undead so prevalently must set itself apart is understandable. But do so by giving your film depth. Do so by filling it with a social relevance that teen love can't rival, not by pumping it full of corn syrup and severed heads.
If an act of God had killed the theaters power after the films opening I'd be tentatively telling you all how the fires of hope had been stoked inside me. That if the rest of the movie was anything like the opening- Daybreakers could miraculously shape up to be a preternatural White Man's Burden. As it stands, that's still the movie I want to see. Had it not bothered with any insight at all, it could have just been a fun action jaunt. But Daybreakers made the mistake of showing me it could do better, and now I'm holding it to that standard.
*The Left Turn: The point in which a movie, faced with a proverbial choice between action and substance (usually pertaining to the final act) chooses action- to it's detriment. I'm giving you the definition here, so I won't have to explain it again when it inevitably comes up again.
Example: I am Legend
Reel Deal recommends:
Gattaca: Ethan Hawke in a breath taking bit social commentary via science fiction.
Event Horizon: Disturbing sci-fi/horror that will make you hate Sam Neill.
American Psycho: A bloody take on corporate America starring Willem Dafoe.