Duck, You Bloodsucker!: 'Daybreakers' Review
Let's get something out of the way immediately: Ethan Hawke is not an action star. He's one of the last generation's finest actors who sometimes stumbles into pseudo-action films a la The Magnificent Seven or Assault on Precinct 13 but is better left to more dramatic roles. Ryan Gosling is this generation's Ethan Hawke which, in the long run, leads to a career that is more varied than most run of the mill action stars can say.
With that in mind, Daybreakers joins the rank and file of films such as Edge of Tomorrow and John Carter that were hurt immensely by their poorly misguided marketing campaigns. Just watch the trailer below.
It's advertised as Blade meets Equilibrium, neither of which it has much in common with except for vampires and a drab gray color scheme that permeates almost every shot of the film. It's unfortunate that the film has those expectations to fill since it is more of a slightly nuanced allegory for man's destruction of the planet's resources.
The film follows Hawke as Edward Dalton, a vampire hematologist who is attempting to suss out a blood substitute so that the vampire population does not become "subsiders". These subsiders are vampires who have gone too long without consuming fresh blood and have become winged monsters closer to human-bat hybrids than the rest of the vampires. As he works for a perfectly cast Sam Neill, he is forced into a partnership with a cured vampire played with aplomb by one of Hollywood's finest character actors, Willem Dafoe, to try and cure the whole race. It's a refreshing spin that utilizes vampire mythology in a way that looks to humanize rather than demonize the creatures.
Hawke is unsurprisingly fantastic as the emotionally torn Dalton; there have been few films he has been in that are not elevated due to his involvement. He brings a nuance to the role that would be lacking if the film had opted for a less talented actor. Hawke's emotive eyes will always be one of his greatest assets and they are put to good use during the emotional scenes of the film.
Neill and Dafoe bring some much-needed gravitas to the film as well with their respective roles as Bromley and Cormac. While Sam Neill may be everyone's favorite dinosaur archaeologist, his villainous turns seem to allow him to delve deep into his bag of acting tricks (check out Event Horizon if you like him in this film). He seems to be enjoying playing the greedy head of Bromley Marks and his scene with Hawke towards the end serves up some great dialogue bits for him. Dafoe seems to be having the most fun out of anyone in the film; sporting a goatee and rockin' racer's jacket, his character almost doesn't belong in the film. He seems better suited to over the top John Carpenter's Vampires than the dour Daybreakers.
Aside from the novel concept and fantastic performance from the three leads; the film offers little else. The visual effects are unremarkable and, in some shots, downright disappointing. The film's five couple minutes made me question what I had gotten myself into when the effects of a vampire being immolated have more in common with a SyFy original film than a $20 million dollar theatrical one. Even the scenes in the blood harvesting room that is emblazoned over every piece of promotional material are underwhelming at best and seem to be light in grays to cover up any visual failings from the CGI. It is nice however to see that the "subsider" makeup are practical effects most likely due to budgetary constraints but are none the less successfully executed.
Daybreakers is just one of those films that needed the studio to actually give a shit about rather than release it with little to no fanfair with a direct line to DVD/VOD/Blu-Ray. While it's not the best vampire film, that will always be a three-way tie between From Dusk till Dawn, Near Dark, and Fright Night (2011), it does do something interesting with the nearly played out folklore creature. Maybe it's time to retire good old Pointy Teeth in favor of something a little more 21st century; maybe the Skunk Ape could use a little retooling?