I wasn't crazy about the first film by the Spierig Brothers, but I respected it as a piece of independent filmmaking just in terms of what they accomplished and how much it cost. It's a very, very tiny film, but there are some gigantic moments and images in it that had an almost Gilliam-esque approach to effects work. I remember writing at the time that I had faith that if they ever had some greater resources behind them and a better script, they had a really good movie in them.
"Daybreakers" is, for the most part, that movie.
I'm impressed by the gore noir look of the movie, set in a world about 20 years from now, once vampires have completely taken over the world. They don't just outnumber humans... it's gotten to the point where humans are basically extinct except for giant private blood farms. It's reached the point of crisis, so Edward (Ethan Hawke) works with a research time to develop a blood substitute that can keep the vampire population alive. Those that starve, unable to find real blood, become monsters, crazed and powerful. The last pockets of humans have been driven completely underground. It looks like everyone's going extinct at the same time, with no hope.
[more after the jump]
Until, of course, hope comes walking in the door in the form of a crossbow-weilding former vampire named Elvis, played with visible relish by Willem Dafoe. Now, the thing I thought they got most wrong in "Undead" was their hypothetically-iconic lead character, a zombie-killing farmer. I thought they tried too hard, and the result seemed like a hollow echo. They almost lapse into self-parody with Dafoe's character, but he's having so much fun that it's hard to fault the way he plays it. And yes... I said "former vampire." Elvis was cured by something, and he offers Edward a chance to research him and try to recreate the events.
The film I would compare it to most directly is Kurt Wimmer's "Equilibrium," a very familiar genre exercise in some regards, but one that is stylish and makes good use of both practical and CG gore. It's not particularly scary, but instead emphasizes the more-insidious horror of a society crumbling under the weight of its own hubris. As an exercise in world-building, it's even more proof that the Spierig Brothers are ready for their giant whatever-it's-going-to-be, their outsized effects picture/franchise adventure whatever. Someone needs to go ahead and hire them. They pull off such an audacious ending that any pacing concerns seem less important, delivering enough red meat to send audiences out happy.
Sam Neill plays the head of a company that seems at first to be the head of the vampire nation, but then by the end, I wasn't sure how powerful he was or wasn't, because there's not reallly a lot of explanation of how things work. Most of the exposition is handled as art direction, and it's actually very clever, with the environment telling the story through headlines, landmarks, advertising, propaganda, and more. Neill's best stuff is with his estranged daughter, a still-human who has been on the run, hiding, afraid of all of them and especially her father. Isabel Lucas, who is probably best known to audiences as the blonde hot robot shapeshifter in "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen," does sad, heartbreaking work as Neill's daughter, and it might be my favorite stuff in the film in terms of selling the reality. Likewise, Michael Dorman makes a strong impression as Frankie, Edward's vampire-army-loyal brother. I don't think they quite know how to resolve his storyline, but he does good, charismatic work
But for the most part, the film's all about looking good and playing cool. And it does. "Daybreakers" opens 2010.
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