Monday, January 18, 2010

Daybreakers



I had pretty low expectations for this, but it still figured out how to disappoint me.

I always get a bit nervous with these really high-concept ideas when I don’t know the creators involved. You never know if they’re capable of telling a decent story or not. Vampires Have Taken Over the World and Are Running Out of Humans to Feed On is a great concept, but creating characters that I care about and giving them a goal that I’m invested in their achieving is a whole other thing. That’s why I didn’t get too excited about Daybreakers before I went in.

But then the first act did a fantastic job of sucking me in (ba-dum CHING!) and making me feel like part of the world. Even though Ethan Hawke is a very restrained actor and not the most exciting guy to watch doing anything, I felt bad for him and wanted to see his character, Edward Dalton, succeed in developing a serum that could replace the vampires’ need for human blood. Knowing what’s going on in the world today (Haiti naturally comes to mind first), my heart went out to those vampires who are too poor to buy human blood and are slowly mutating into bat-like creatures. I wanted Dalton to find a way to help them that would also keep humans safe.

I also appreciate the thought and detail that went into figuring out what a world controlled by vampires would be like. How would they protect themselves during the day, for example? The answers – all based on current, real technology – make perfect sense. Unfortunately, by the second act, enough of the vampires’ world is revealed that I don’t like it anymore.

My initial reaction after finishing the movie was that it doesn’t make sense, but that’s not quite fair. It’s not so much that as it is a long-held bias I have against a particular point of vampire mythology. I’ve never understood or accepted the bit where anyone who’s bitten by a vampire is also turned into a vampire. That makes sense for the world of Daybreakers and explains in a quick, easy way how the vampires became so numerous and are in the situation they are, but for most stories – ones in which vampires haven’t taken over the world – it’s dumb. Of course vampires would take over the world if it worked that way. Since they usually don’t, I’ve learned to hate and dismiss that part of the myth. I much prefer the scenario where a vampire has to intentionally drain a victim of all of her blood and then replace it with the vampire’s own in order to turn the victim.

But, since the vampires have taken over the world in Daybreakers, I can’t really complain from a rational, objective standpoint. As much as I hate it, the one-bite myth works in this instance. I still don’t like it, but that’s my prejudice, not an inherent flaw in the story. Unfortunately, it plays such a huge role in the story that I couldn’t just ignore it and move on. I had to keep confronting it throughout the entire film.

Even without that though, the movie’s flawed. I don’t want to spoil anything about Willem Dafoe’s character, but I will say that it’s obvious he’s supposed to be the Woody Harrelson in Zombieland of the movie. I mean, he’s a cowboy named Elvis for crying out loud. Unfortunately, as talented an actor as Dafoe obviously is, he doesn’t have the charisma to pull that role off. Or… maybe this is another case of my prejudices getting in the way of my enjoyment of the movie. Maybe Elvis isn’t supposed to be like Tallahassee. Maybe I’m unfair in my comparison of the two characters and I should just let Elvis be Elvis. Maybe I should like the movie if only I could get myself out of the way and let it be what it is. Unfortunately, I can’t.

There is one, objective flaw I'll mention as an afterthought though (because it was certainly an afterthought for the filmmakers). This is not a horror movie. It's graphically violent, but it's not scary. There's actually nothing wrong with that. Vampire movies don't have to be scary. But realizing that they've got an unscary vampire film, the directors decided to throw in a bunch of random shots of bats dive-bombing the camera to the sound of an obnoxiously loud screech. Ooh, look. We made you jump. Now we have a scary movie.

Oh, and don't get me started on the scene that heavy-handedly associates the poor, mutated vampires with Holocaust victims. I'd rather not have to remember that.

Two out of five vampire commandos.
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