Thursday, May 20, 2010

Daybreakers



I didn’t see Daybreakers in theater, even though I usually shell out a couple of bucks to support any original horror film that comes down the pike, in part because of just how intensely I detested the brothers Spierig’s first movie Undead. A lazy prefab would be cult movie in the worst possible way.

Daybreakers isn’t perfect, mostly because it unwisely climaxes in its first ten minutes. A dialogue free eerie tone poem of a world ruled by Vampires. But it’s an ambitious, intense, well acted slice of original horror filmmaking, and should act as catnip to the discerning genre fan.

Ethan Hawke is not what I would call my favorite actor. He always has the same low key reaction to everything, whether it’s the reuniting with his the love of his life, or having Denzel Washington threatening to kill him. He is counter balanced by Willem Dafoe who is quite possibly my favorite working actor and invests Elvis with a cocky swinging dick sensibility, that the Spierig brothers tried for and failed to achieve in Undead (Though he overdoes the “Docs”). Sam Neill also puts in a strong performance in the Danny Huston role, as a corporate CEO amoral even for a vampire.

Spierig brothers have a good sense of geography, composition and know how to build tension in a scene, resulting in bits that should be kind of rote becoming improbably exciting, like an ambush cum car chase which plays with the rules of vampirism in some intriguing ways.

I was impressed that the film got in a few truly rough gore gags. An early scene set during the test of a synthetic blood substitute is worthy of early Peter Jackson. Unlike so many modern American horror films this film is capable of a few nasty surprises that are genuinely nasty and actually do surprise. And thank Christ, unless I missed it there is not so much as a single CGI gore effect in the film. Its all topped off in an ending that is deliciously grim (if on too small a scale to be as effective as it could have been), even if I wasn’t quite sure just what was happening in the final twist.

Things do fall apart somewhat in the last act. Sam Neill’s arc depends on a twist that doesn’t so much break the suspension of disbelief as it ignores it. And more damningly the vampire society that the film so meticulously built goes from “On the Brink of collapse.” To “Collapsed.” More or less off screen. Losing the opportunity to showcase what could have been some biting (whawhawaaaaah) social satire, to a single scene involving an overworked barista, and an execution scene that unsuccessfully walks the fine line between small scale and cheap.

Still despite its flaws Daybreakers is easily my favorite mainstream horror film since The Strangers (Though to be fair I don’t like it nearly as much as that particular title). Though in the end it is perhaps less then the sum of its parts, Daybreakers tries. It is a thoughtful rewarding horror film. It may not be perfect but it’s a whole lot of fun.

6 comments:

.self.pity. said...

+1

The Film Connoisseur said...

Im dying to see this one, I remember seeing UNDEAD and saying, "if these guys can make this zombie movie with one million dollars on their home computer, then these guys defenetly show some promise!" So Im intrigued to see what they could do with a budget and a good cast.

Budd said...

this one has caught my interest as well. I will have to give it a look now.

Merus said...

I saw it in theatres and enjoyed it enough. I agree that it's got some great ideas and doesn't quite nail the execution. I feel like the movie's intended climax dropped the ball in that it muddied what should have been a pretty clear plot point in order to get one last shock in.

Marcus said...

Hasn't been on the upper tier of my favs that I have seen so far this year, but I did still fairly enjoy it and didn't regret seeing it

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Self Pity: !

@ FC: I think you'll dig it Franco. Undead felt to me like a movie the brothers made because they knew horror fans will watch low budget zombie movies not because they loved Zombie movies. Not a problem here.

@Budd: Definitely worth it.

@Merus: Yeah, I understood what was happening but not why. Which is kind of a problem. And the bitch of it is that last shock didn't have that much impact for me. Now had that been seen over the scale of the entire city that would have been something.

@Marcus: There have definitely been better movies. But theatrical horror has been kind of slim pickings lately.