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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Daybreakers


Resolutely old-school in its approach to vampires - they eat people, they don't have reflections, and they burst into flames if they try to get a suntan - while science-fictional in tone, with Daybreakers the Australian Spierig brothers (Undead), have created the kind of solid B-movie thriller that wins fans worldwide. There's only one problem: it's not all that much fun.

There's plenty to admire in this grim tale of a no-so-futuristic world where almost everyone has been turned into a vampire. The Spierig's have clearly spent a lot of time figuring out how this world works, from armoured and camera covered cars so they can drive in daylight to forest fires started by vampiric animals wandering into the sunlight. The characters are well thought-out too: blood scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a man-turned-vampire weighed down by the burden of having to drink blood to survive - if vampires don't drink blood they turn into mindless monsters, which is increasingly a problem as blood supplies are running out. Everyone’s a vampire, remember? His boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) is far more comfortable with being a vampire (he had a terminal illness when he was turned into one), so when Dalton stumbles into the grasp of a small band of non-vampires who just might have a cure for vampirism, it's a bit of a two-edged sword. No vampires means no worries about lack of blood; no vampires means you don't get to live forever.

It's this rigourous approach to plotting that makes this such a watchable film even as the relentless one-note nature of the story starts to take it's toll. Daybreakers takes itself totally seriously from start to finish which, considering it's about vampires milking humans for blood, does make you wish that occasionally someone would lighten up and crack a smile. Presumably Willem Dafoe (as the car-loving redneck who comes across a cure for vampirism) was meant to be that guy, but he turns in a sombre, desperate performance that, while totally appropriate for his character, isn't quite the barrel of laughs that this film occasionally needs. The end result is a vampire film that remains solidly consistent without ever really bursting into life. Which seems appropriate.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #473)

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