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Christopher Webster [Film Festival 10.05.09] post apocalyptic movie review scifi

Year: 2009
Directors: Michael Spierig / Peter Spierig
Writers: Michael Spierig / Peter Spierig
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 4 out of 10

In "Daybreakers", the latest film by the Spierig Brothers, the year is 2019 and vampires rule the earth. It's ten years after a single bat bite triggered a viral epidemic that transformed the bulk of the human race into undead bloodsuckers, and society has altered accordingly. The streets are mostly empty during the day, blood is the chief economic good, and the purity of your plasma is directly proportionate to how much money you make. Ed (Ethan Hawke) is a vampire hematologist who has spent every year since the transformation trying to synthesize a plasma substitute; he's hoping to give vampire-kind an alternative to blood-farming the few remaining humans left on the planet. After a chance encounter with a group of human resistance fighters that include ex-vampire Willem Dafoe, Ed is integrated into their efforts to perfect a cure for vampirism and stop the genocide of the human race.

A seemingly fitting choice for Fantastic Fest's closing night movie, "Daybreakers" is the Spierig Brothers' follow-up to "Undead", their ambitious and modestly successful 2003 film that didn't impress much in the scripting or acting departments, but had a high level of energy and fanboy enthusiasm. The hope with a sophomore film like this is that the filmmakers will show some growth as screenwriters (the brothers wrote both pictures) to match the increased budget and, for the first ten minutes or so of this very expensive-looking movie, that definitely seems to be the case.

The opening scenes are highly effective, and while we've seen this kind of sci-fi world-building before, I couldn't help but get a little giddy that we were about to witness a truly innovative take on the tired, tired vampire subgenre. And then the first of many contrived and lazy plot points happened, and I remembered that, for about twenty-two seconds, "Underworld" seemed pretty fresh, too, until I realized that the filmmakers were working a blandly safe distance from the material. While "Underworld" played like the sort of movie a hipster might make after watching "The Matrix" and quickly skimming the cliff notes for a few Anne Rice novels, "Daybreakers" is what you get when you watch all of the "Blade" films, "The Matrix" again, and, well, "Underworld", and set the blender on high until the potentially interesting stuff has pureed right the hell out. Dafoe gets one good line, but is otherwise wasted. Sam Neill is likewise stuck with a one-note corporate overlord role. Hawke can still brood with the best, and does his damnedest, but none of these actors, all of whom I like very much, can enliven the aggressively mediocre script.

Once the most (actually, only) interesting aspect of the story, that of a world populated predominantly by vampires, has been comfortably set up, the script abandons it altogether and settles into a rhythm that is so familiar to viewers of substandard fare like "Demolition Man" or "Ultraviolet" that you can't help but wonder if this approach to sci-fi horror is the only option you get once your budget peaks past the two or three million mark. John Carpenter's "They Live" came to mind several times throughout, but "Daybreakers" has none of that film's humor, satire, or palpable sense of menace, and instead repeatedly defers to the Safe Mainstream Future Action Story Handbook. There's the familial, in this case brotherly, betrayal and redemption. There's the evil corporate plot to control everything, even at the expense of common sense. There's even the supporting character who turns out to be worse than expected, at least if you've never actually seen a movie before, and the off-camera dispatching of said character by one of our supposedly-incapacitated good guys, complete with swelling, heroic overture and slow dolly up. Good grief. Really? And if it seems like I'm being overly harsh on the brothers, ask yourself what kind of a story you think you could derive from such a juicy setup. If you're even remotely a fan of dystopian sci-fi, vampire movies, or both, you'll come up with more than a few, and if you're as fed up with the seemingly endless parade of minor variations on the underground resistance formula as I am, none of them will resemble the plot of this film, and most of them will be more interesting.

It hurts matters even more that the central thrust of the plot, in which the human race is rapidly becoming extinct, hinges on a glaring and easily fixable plot hole. You're running out of people, right, so why not just breed more? We've seen all your fancy, "Attack of the Clones"-style hardware, so we can tell you know your way around a baby-making circuit board or two. Maybe these vampires didn't have access to a super A.I. bent on world domination, but the Spierigs should know better. But as the final action scenes roll out, it becomes pretty clear that, as writers, they started off with a neato "what if?" premise, immediately fast-forwarded to the bloody climax, then sat around like kids coming off a sugar high wondering how they were going to fill up the rest of the running time with all that boring character and plot stuff. And that just isn't good enough anymore.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

I am not surprised. Judging from their previous film they can't really go beyond "hey, it's a good idea for a movie".
The idea can hold the plot only so far, and it could be forgivable 10-20 years ago, but not now with such demanding audience.


mans (12 years ago) Reply

Oh ya, im gonna see this movie. Especially if Ethan Hawke the babe is in it. Facebook page has some cool stuff on there -

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