Movie News & Reviews

Vampires lack character in 'Daybreakers'

In my ongoing quest to be the biggest dork in the room, I try to keepup on the recent trends in sci-fi and fantasy.

Right now, vampires are so huge they shouldn't have to worry aboutstepping out in sunshine because the shadow they cast is so massive itblocks all light across the inner planets. But for someone working ona script or book right now, if they're writing about vampires, theymight as well connect a tube straight from their printer to the trashcan. In the two to three years it'd take their story to hit the screen orthe shelves, the vampire trend will be as old as Rip Van Jesus.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

So the question is what's next? Mermaids and mermen arestarting to make a bit of a "splash" (heh heh). Angels, especially theguardian variety prone to falling in love with their wards, they'realso on the radar. I myself am campaigning for stories about dogs whodisguise themselves as cats to break into the highly discriminatoryfeline mystery field. The future's wide-open! In the meantime,however, we're still dealing with the bloodsucker craze, such as thesemi-innovate Daybreakers.

By 2019, a rampant plague has turned nearly everyone into vampires.The few remaining humans are hunted and farmed for the blood necessaryto keep vampires from falling into a feral, violent state.

But blood supplies are about to run out. Scientist Ethan Hawke isworking on a blood substitute for his pharmaceutical company when heruns into Willem Dafoe, a renegade human who was able to accidentallycure himself of vampirism. If Hawke can figure out a way to duplicateit, he may be able to stave off the collapse of society — and undo theplague.

Other than it being kind of sketchy that a species so long-lived wouldbe so shortsighted about its food supply, that's a pretty decentconcept right there. Part of the whole vampire thing is we allsecretly want to be one — or not-so-secretly, in the case of certainteenagers and delusional Internet subcultures — but what happens whenwe're all running around wanting to suck each others' blood?

Writer/director team Michael and Peter Spierig flesh this out bypainting their world with a distinctive look (vampires enjoy hats,sharp black suits, and smoking; remind me not to go back to New Yorkany time soon) that's full of extrapolative goodness.

It hangs together for a while. The closer the world gets to anarchy,though, the harder it gets for the Spierigs to get that across,relying on intrusive, exposition-heavy news reports to clue us in tothe latest happs. I don't know where these are coming from, unlessit's also a future where we've all got TV receivers in our heads, andin that case I can't wait, but as a technique, it's out of place here.

And the deeper the plot runs, the further it ventures into CrazyCoincidence Theatre. That Hawke literally runs into the outlawhumans — like, with his car into their car — is one thing. But withHawke's own brother tasked with hunting them down, and an even lesslikely subplot involving evil CEO Sam Neill's lost daughter suddenlybecoming quite un-lost, it's harder to swallow than a goblet full ofO-positive.

On the plus side, the vampires actually explode when they get staked,which must make it all kinds of exciting at those cocktail partieswhere caterers dash around with trays filled with tiny sandwiches withthe toothpicks sticking up. Sunlight: that also blows vampires up. Ohyes, and Hawke's big experiment involves repeatedly setting himself onfire.

Daybreakers doesn't lack for fun, then, right up through itsgory, silly finale. But it's pretty damned earnest considering it'sabout a world full of vampires, and its weak characterizationmeans all those coincidence-laden sideplots can't find the emotionalpayoff they're searching for. It's better than most movies like it,but that doesn't mean it's any good.

Grade: C+