Thursday, January 28, 2010

DAYBREAKing from the Pack


By Marla Newborn
If I were a zombie, I would be jealous. Vampires have more popularity and are clearly all the rage these days. Of course, this trend didn’t begin just now, but boy, has it taken off with lightning speed. One could say it began with HBO’s TRUE BLOOD—where, due to the availability of the right type of blood, vampires went from scary monsters to ordinary—but sexy—citizens practically overnight. Or was it with the TWILIGHT books and movies that offered female fans a series of romantic supernatural fantasies? And then there’s always THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, a series that shrewdly mixes teen drama and the supernatural.

DAYBREAKERS, the currently playing Lionsgate film written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, refreshingly takes the subgenre into fresh vampiric territory while managing to continue some of our more beloved myths. The year is 2019. A deadly plague has hit the Earth, and most of the world’s population are bloodsuckers. Humans remain endangered and second-class citizens (to say the least), as they are forced into hiding while being hunted and farmed for blood. However, unlike the many worlds we’ve seen overtaken by our friends the zombies, this society seems to function quite well and everything is in order: People (for lack of a better word) go to work, have families, cars and homes—they just do all of their living at night.

The big problem, and the source of the story’s tension, is that the blood supply is running low, which means not enough food to serve the world. Enter Edward Dalton, played by Ethan Hawke, a researcher whose job it is to find a substitute so the ruling population does not starve. Edward, of course, is a vampire himself, but he’s also a man who loathes what he has become and has refused to feed on human plasma. He must do his job, but he secretly has a big heart for the human race as it slowly dissipates. Circumstances lead Edward to meet Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and her group of surviving humans, and this encounter introduces him to a medical breakthrough that will decide the fate of the human race.

DAYBREAKERS sports a great cast. I couldn’t help thinking of GATTACA while watching Hawke play his part, yet he does stretch a bit and shows us some range of emotion as Edward. Sam Neill is excellent as Edward’s boss Bromley, an “evil let me take over the world” type with twinges of compassion for his daughter, who would rather remain human. And of course, there’s Willem Dafoe—whom I adore, but have rarely seen him in a role like “Elvis” Cormac, Audrey’s friend and crossbow-wielding fellow resistance fighter (though there’s a trace of his part from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY in this character). This would have been a perfect part for Woody Harrelson, who has admittedly perhaps been overexposed lately; that said, Elvis is a lot of fun and adds humor to this otherwise bleak world.

But any possible quibbles with the casting are inconsequential thanks to the world the Spierigs have created. The brothers have opened up the vampire genre into a whole new playing field—for example, the undead feeling sorry for humans and the situation not being so black-and-white. In this vision of 2019, there is order rather than chaos, and we’re never shown the insanity that must have ensued when the vampire virus began taking over. When the film opens, all is copacetic—but the story doesn’t need that sort of anarchy to create a sense of conflict.

And of course, the movie delivers in terms of horror: There are scary scenes of blood and guts, along with tension that hums from the moment the film begins to its climax. DAYBREAKERS is new and exciting and fresh. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out!

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