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Monday, January 11, 2010

Daybreakers


Pardon the pun, but Vampires suck. For one thing, there are way too many of them, especially today. We’ve got those folks from “True Blood”, southern hedonists who are struggling to assimilate into the society of the living. Then there is the brood from Twilight. They’ve spent a hundred years in high school and still haven’t figured out how to make it to the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria. Blood-sucking nerds. The BBC has “Being Human”, a series, which sounds like an old joke… “A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost move into an apartment together…” Even over at the CW, they’ve got 20-something angst coming out their fangs with “The Vampire Diaries”, though it is hard to feel sorry for anyone who is undead and still looks as fabulous as the high cheek-boned Ian Somerhalder.


One thing all of these stories have in common is a protagonist who is unhappy being a vampire and who eschews the drinking of human blood, which is a lot like being a Lohan who doesn’t want to soak up spilled booze with the enthusiasm of an alcoholic Spongebob. It defeats the purpose and makes doing a vampire’s job all the more difficult. This is certainly true for Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke; Staten Island), the tortured neck nibbler at the center of the new (well, not really) movie, Daybreakers. The fact that Edward is a hematologist by trade would seem to make human blood readily available to him, a particularly ironic fact considering that in his world of 2019, over 95% of the world’s population is now of the vampiric persuasion, meaning there’s not nearly enough humans still around to be farmed for their fluids.



That’s a problem Charles Bromley (Sam Neil; In Her Skin) wants to exploit for all it’s worth as he maintains the world’s largest “farm” of human “cattle” in existence. His company keeps the humans naked and barely conscious, hanging like slabs of beef in cold storage, where they survive only to have their blood cyclically drained through tubes inserted permanently in their necks.


As for Edward, he is supposedly working on developing a synthetic blood product to placate the masses (and keep Bromley’s stock through the roof); at least that is what he wants his boss to think. In actuality, he is working on a cure for vampirism, which begs the question “Does the majority of the population need to be ‘cured’ when they are the ones determining what is ‘normal’?”  Obviously, Bromley doesn’t think so, and that point is drummed in with visual cues reminiscent of the Holocaust photos that showed the frailest of the death camp inmates being marched off to their slaughter. In Bromley’s world, those who can’t keep it together as vampires are dragged out into the sun to fry.


Daybreakers tries hard to imbue its subject matter with relevance and show the corporate bloodsuckers for what they really are ~ corporate bloodsuckers ~ willing to stop at nothing to satisfy their personal greed. People talk about the war in Iraq “spilling blood for oil.” Here, the Bromley folk are spilling blood for… well, more blood, and they are awfully sloppy in the spillage.





Daybreakers is chock-full of bloodshed, so much so that I couldn’t help but wonder if they were a tad more careful with the blood that is splattered everywhere then maybe there wouldn’t be such a drastic shortage.


And speaking of drastic shortages, the movie suffers from its biggest shortages in the quality of the script and the complexity of the characters, not that this is the kind of movie that demands either. Maybe I’m spoiled by “True Blood”, but Daybreakers is fairly anemic when it comes to making connections amongst its characters. Hawke plays Edward like he truly is dead, not exactly the inspired scientist one might expect. If he can manage any human emotions he must have been doing it during breaks in the filming because none of it is on-screen. Meanwhile, the human woman Edward befriends, Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan; Saved), seems just the opposite. She is immediately and passionately willing to trust this stranger who works for her sworn enemy, which makes no sense except as a plot device.



Lionsgate, the studio distributing the film, kept it in the shelf down under, in Australia, where it was shot, for more than two years, not confident enough to give Daybreakers a release date until now. Perhaps because co-directors and writers (and twin brothers) Peter and Michael Spierig (Undead) turn the vampire mythology on its ear, it may explain why the studio didn’t know what to do with the movie. It’s too bad because Daybreakers is a gory bit of fun in spite of its flaws. While it may lack complexity, it does present the vampire story in a new light (albeit it of a non-UV variety) and can be looked at as a biting satire on American consumerism. That alone earns it a rating of AB+. 

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