Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers

Fundamentally, we have two problems with the movie, Daybreakers.  The first is its title and second pertains only to the final ninety seconds of the film.  Strangely, we consider both issues major ones, though neither prevent this from being the best American made vampire movie we've seen in more than a decade.

Since Blade, in fact, a significant observation as there is more similar than meets the eye.  It could well be argued that Daybreakers is an alternate sequel to Blade.  Had things ended differently and Deacon Frost won, the world he'd usher in would have looked a great deal like that in Daybreakers.  From the design to the blood plants, there are echoes of Blade throughout.  Then again, there are echoes of many movies in Daybreakers.

It's as much Blade Runner as it is Blade, for instance, and its star isn't the only thing to make us think of Gattaca.  We could go on, but such games are seldom fruitful.  Instead, we shall turn to the question of genre, a perplexing one in this case.

Daybreakers is more science fiction than it is horror, and is perhaps more noir than either.  Fortunately, it isn't embarrassed of any of its elements.  There is more gore than we'd anticipated, and it is the sort that tends to occupy horror films: more fun than distressing, used for shock and a twisted sort of comic relief.

The creatures in this movie are vampires in a very literal sense of the word: they burst in flame in sunlight, mutate into bat-like creature in the absence of blood, and cast no reflection.  Aside from some brief shots of newspaper headlines implying a natural origin of the disease, this is more curse than disorder.  We didn't notice any acknowledgment of crosses or garlic, but most other elements were retained: a wooden stake has the effect Hollywood has given it, which explains, quite logically, why the architecture tends to favor metal.

The movie takes the mythology of vampirism seriously.  When it adds a new element, it does so with care.  There is a major addition to the "rules" of vampirism made here, and it feels like a natural progression of those that have existed since vampire movies made stakes and sunlight lethal.

Daybreakers is, first and foremost, very clever.  A great deal of attention is paid to answering the question, "What would a world of vampires be like?"  The movie is good throughout, but it is at its best when establishing setting and tone.  The opening of the movie is perfect, though it seems to have nothing to do with the story.  Perhaps it's leftover from an earlier draft.  No matter, we wouldn't lose it for the world.

Our issues with the movie's title should be obvious: we find ourselves wondering just how many names they tried that were already taken before settling on something so cheesy.  Our other complaint is with the final ninety seconds, and we hesitate to say too much.  Fear not, good reader, we've no intent to spoil the ending.

We offer this observation, instead.  The movie's plot was well-crafted until then, with only the occasional misstep or over develop B plot.  But the last few minutes deviated, not massively or absurdly - they didn't undo or counter the conclusion they'd worked on - but they did seem to ignore it.

We can say no more on this subject.

Of the movies we've compared this to, Blade Runner is the most classic and, in many ways, the most apropos.  So we will call Blade Runner a five star picture and Day Breakers four.  It has some problems, but it is a surprisingly intelligent genre film for this time of year.


ZaK Kauffman said...

I was very pleased with Daybreakers. It was a straight sci-fi movie. I was sure that by the end of the movie it would have become a horror flick (as the cast is trapped somewhere being stalked by a Subwalker) or an action movie (as the humans get together and kick some vampire ass), but it stayed sci-fi, obsessed with the implications of it's own ideas. B sci-fi with a bit of schlock certainly, but good stuff.

The movie it seemed most influenced by to me was Escape from New York. The director definitely had a love on for John Carpenter.

Erin Snyder said...

I hadn't thought of Escape from New York: good call.