Friday, January 15, 2010


The Australian-based Spierig Brothers have the distinction of writing and directing the second-best zombie comedy ever after “Shaun of the Dead” changed the genre for good. Their movie “Undead” did not illuminate movie screens in America but went straight to DVD and if you have not seen it, then you have missed quite a treat. The Brothers Spierig make their big-screen American theatrical debut with “Daybreakers,” but they have forsaken giddy, outlandish comedy for straight-faced, humorless drama in this lukewarm vampire chiller with a unique premise but weak payoff. Two-time Academy award nominee Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill topline this glossy, widescreen, futuristic epic.

The Spierigs have made a traditional vampire movie where the fangsters cannot be seen in mirrors, and they have to restrict their comings and goings to after sundown or confine themselves to sheltered walkways or blacked out vehicles with video screens so the sunlight does not bake them. The title “Daybreakers” (** 1/2 out of ****) refers to what happens when vampires expose themselves to moderate amounts of light under controlled conditions. The film opens on a downbeat note as a young girl who will never grow up leaves a suicide note behind and steps outside at sunrise to turn herself into ashes. Meanwhile, vampires have gained the upper hand in society and imprisoned the human populations to blood farms. If you go back and watch the revolutionary Wesley Snipes thriller “Blade,” the vampires have established blood farms where they milked humans, but they remained subservient to humans. “Daybreakers” reverses the formula. The vampires dominate humans, but the former find themselves now in the precarious predicament as the supply of human blood has dwindled to dangerously low levels. This amounts to a metaphor for the declining supply of oil. Some vampires, like our protagonist, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke of “Training Day”), prefers to sip synthetic blood.

The Bromsley Marks Corporation employs Edward as its chief hematologist, and he is struggling without luck to discover an artificial blood substitute that does not blow his vampire test subjects to smithereens. Unfortunately, the blood shortage is having severe effects on the fanged population. Some of these starving bloodsuckers are turning into what the authorities refer to as subsiders. In other words, they are reverting to their bat-like origins. They turn cavadaverously pale, lose their hair, sprout wings and hang from the ceiling. Just so this transformation does not evoke laughter, the Spierig brothers make these renegade vampires extremely violent as well as absolutely hideous. They are far uglier that Max Schreck was in the seminal 1922 vampire silent movie “Nosferatu.” Indeed, the scene where a subsider breaks into the home of Edward Dalton is probably as scary as this anemic movie gets.

Although Edward is a vampire, we learn from his brother, Frankie Dalton (Michael Dorman of “Suburban Mayhem”), that Edward never wanted to be a vampire. Frankie serves in the cammo-clad vampire army that ruthlessly scours the earth for fresh humans. They resemble SWAT teams; cruise around in armored carriers with video cameras serving as their eyes and wear specially designed outfits to operate during the daylight hours. Frank craves human blood and loves being a vampire. Indeed, Frankie transformed Edward into a vampire because his older brother wanted to die. Meanwhile, Edward sympathizes with the plight of the poor humans who are put into comatose states and drained of their blood.

One night during his drive home from work, Edward notices that his ears are being to change, an unmistakable sign that he has not partaken of enough genuine human blood. While he is checking out his deformed ears, he crosses the yellow line on the highway and nearly collides with an on-coming vehicle. When he goes to check the SUV that he almost sideswiped, he is surprised to see that the passengers are humans armed with automatic crossbows. The driver, Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan of “Aquamarine”), is prepared to pull the trigger on him, but Edward convinces her and her companions that he does not pose a threat to them. The alerted Vampire Police careen to the scene of the accident to investigate. Edward persuades the humans to take refuge in his vehicle before the cops arrive. While Edward sends the vampire cops on a wild goose chase, Audrey spots his ID tag and later introduces Edward to a very special friend.

Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac (Willem Dafoe of “Spider-Man 3”) tells Edward that he was once a vampire, but he was involved in a one-vehicle car crash that catapulted him through the windshield into the sunlight before he plunged into a stream. The baptism of sunlight and water changed him back into a human. The Vampire Army are breathing down the necks of these human resistance fighters that take Edward into their hideout where he finds that the blood supply shortfall need not be the doom of his race. Despite several scenes where the Vampire Army ambushes humans smuggling themselves through the back woods at night or the Vampire Police round up the evil subsiders, “Daybreakers” devotes little time to developing the budding romance between Edward and Audrey.

Although Spierig Brothers have mined a fresh, different vein for vampire movies, “Daybreakers” rarely generates the high caliber of suspense, tension, and high-octane action scenes that the first two “Blade” epics created. Indeed, when the explosive crossbow arrows hit their mark on the Vampire Army troops, they vanish in bloody explosives, but there is no charisma here. Edward Dalton does not make a good action hero. In fact, Willem Dafoe steals every scene that he has with Ethan Hawke and Dafoe delivers the best lines of dialogue. As imaginative as the Spierig Brothers are, this vampire chiller lacks enough hair-raising scenes to make your blood boil, with the exception of the few subsider scenes and an occasional bats shrieking out of nowhere. Altogether, “Daybreakers” is a little too synthetic for its own good.