Sunday, March 6, 2011

Movie Review: Daybreakers

Perhaps the most prevalent and popular form of writing today is the kind we see in movies. While many people simply "hate books," nearly everybody watches movies. Since the rise of Netflix and Hulu, I for one find myself watching quite a few more movies than I used to, mostly because I can do it via Netflix Instant, which I love dearly.

The best way for a person to really digest a movie is to take it apart and think about it, and that's just what I intend to do. Today I'm examining Daybreakers, a movie from 2009 that earned an only-alright 67% from Rotten Tomatoes.

While it initially seems like the movie is trying to jump on the "vampires are awesome" bandwagon that so many others are trying to get on, this movie actually what one reviewer called "a non-sparkly vampire movie." In fact, it's so far removed from the romanticized vampires of today that it comes off more like a zombie movie or the old black-and-white Dracula films. Vampires aren't good, and this movie goes to great lengths to show that it's not something you should aspire to be.

"Is there any way that you could fry that bag of blood?"
Be warned; if you're planning on watching this, I'm telling you now that I'm gonna spoil pretty much everything.

This movie was written and directed by two Australian guys, Michael and Peter Spierig. As a result, the movie has (perhaps) a slightly different feel than regular American movies, though all of the actors are still speaking in American accents.

In case you decided not to watch the trailer at the top of this page, the story goes like this: In the future, the entire world has been transformed into vampires. As a result, humans are used exclusively for their blood; they're put into these (frankly disturbing) farms that collect their blood. Since vampires drink blood exclusively, it's reasonable to assume that the company that harvests the stuff is a little more important than, say, a beef jerky company. The movie follows Ethan Hawke's character Edward Dalton. Holy crap, he's a vampire named Edward. Oh, those crafty Spierig brothers! We also find out shortly after the movie starts that Edward doesn't like drinking human blood, which suggests that vampires can subsist on animal blood, but that's never fleshed out (no pun intended). Edward is a hemotologist, a scientist whose job involves squeezing every last ounce of blood from the blood farm. His other job is to find a suitable substitute for blood, because the vampires are quickly running out.
Sam Neil's next movie? Vampire dinosaurs.
By random happenstance, Edward has a car accident with what turns out to be a van full of humans. He helps them hide in his car so the police don't find them, and eventually gets tangled up with the human resistance.

He soon meets Willem Dafoe, whose character name isn't as interesting as the name Willem Dafoe. It turns out that Dafoe accidentally cured vampirism (because he himself used it have it) via a technique that boils down to vampires being full-on exposed to sunlight then getting dunked in water. Soon, Edward is ed-cured and tries to bring his cure back to the vampires. Many vampires die, but eventually the characters, now cured of their awful affliction, literally ride off into the sunset.
While the movie might be a transparent allegory about the need for alternative fuels in the developed world, I thought it was quite entertaining despite that fact.

It doesn't paint vampires in a good light, which is refreshing. Furthermore, it turns out that when vampires don't consume blood for several weeks, they begin to turn into awful bat-human creatures that look like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. This was an interesting twist, as it makes the vampires almost relatable (but still monstrous). At one point, the Love Interest Girl actually gives Edward some of her blood simply because she "wants him to stay focused." There's no convoluted love story here; while Edward does travel with Dafoe and Love Interest Girl for most of the movie, never once do they kiss or even touch one another. I was glad to see it, frankly. Not simply because of Twilight's supersaturation in the mainstream today, but because every single movie has a love story. In the case of this movie, there simply wasn't room for one.

Bella doesn't even OWN a crossbow.
Strangely, even though it didn't seem like there was much character development, I think there actually might have been some. Thinking back, I realize that by the end of the movie, I had something of an appreciation for the characters. I wasn't terribly attached to them, but I related to their struggle. After watching the atrocity that is the 1998 remake of Lost in Space, it was kind of nice to care about characters again.

The most interesting thing about the movie was how much thought the Spierig brothers put into the world of vampires. Everything, and I mean everything was considered. Simple things that I wouldn't even think of, like a camera-and-screen inside the car's sun visor. "Duh!" I said, "vampires can't see themselves in mirrors!"

Vehicles have "blackout visors" in every window for when vampires drive in the day, replaced by an array of monitors for each window. You might not be impressed with it, but I thought it was bloody brilliant.

All throughout the movie little ideas crop up that fit perfectly with the vampire theme. Swat teams have these strange welding-helmet-cyclops-masks that block sunlight. There's an underground sidewalk-subway for vampires to walk the city streets during the day! Everything is perfectly crafted to accomodate the vampire's world and it really aids in the suspension of disbelief.

It's hard to really examine the writing of a movie compared to that of a book. You can't see the prose or style in the same ways. It's easier to think of it in terms of how many times I had to stop and think, "wait, that's stupid." In the case of Daybreakers, I didn't ever point out some awful dialogue or nonsensical thing like, "zoom in and enhance." Stylistically the movie's writing succeeded. The characters weren't completely developed, but then again, they were written well enough for the purpose of the movie. This wasn't a J.J. Abrams character picture; this was more like a Twilight Zone. Just a strange set of circumstance and some characters to explore exactly how bizarre everything is. Then again, Twilight Zone usually had really strong characters.

Everybody has crossbows in the future!

Although the movie is rated R mostly for violence and language, I can't help but feel like it might've worked as a PG-13. There were only a few F-words, but they didn't seem necessary; the characters were articulated and intelligent enough to get themselves across without needing to speak that way. After the insane-but-sensical rambling of Norman Osborne, hearing Dafoe swear seemed like an intellectual step down. Then again, I've never seen Boondock Saints, and I'm sure there's more Dafoe F-bombs in there than in Daybreakers.
When it comes to violence, though, I think the Spierig twins decided to please a certain subset of movie-goers, and that happens to be the "gorier the better" crowd. I've seen enough horror movies to know that people actually complain if there's not enough blood and guts. Weirdly, this movie didn't feel very much like a horror movie half the time. It was about Edward trying to redeem himself and humanity.

I should also mention that this movie had some of the sharpest, prettiest lighting I've ever seen in a movie. I'm not typically one to notice such things, but damn.

I guess I've reached the part where people usually give the movie a score or something. I wasn't planning on doing that, but I'll give it a shot.

The good:
Good, logical writing in regard to plot and pacing
Acceptable dialogue
Amazing attention to detail
Fantastic set lighting and general movie "look"

The bad:
Slightly tedious sub-story involving Edward's brother, a sort of human-catcher
Sam Neil's daughter's death (crispy vampire)
It seems kinda like humanity lost anyway, despite the happy ending

Overall: 4/5


  1. Hmm, compared to all the Twilight hoopla, it almost sounds like a refreshing take on vampires (if such a thing exists). Having just watched the Dr. Who episode with Tennant and the school of kids being brainwashed by vampire-bat aliens, vampires are kind of on my mind.

    The movie concept almost reminds me of The Host, all the way down to siding with the resistance. Although I think The Host is pretty much unfilmable because so much of it is internal dialogue.

  2. So glad to see you writing. I think you really thought this one out.
    I would write a longer comment but computer problems I will talk to you in person.