Thursday, 7 January 2010

Daybreakers


It's official: vampires are chic again. And bloodsucking flicks are unlikely to come more stylish than Daybreakers, from Aussie duo Michael and Peter Spierig.


It's a neat package of Blade Runner-esque dystopia, Richard Matheson-esque sci-fi horror and, well, all sorts of other esque-type cliches. Neatly casting the pointy-toothed types as both villains and victims, it's set in an unnamed vampire dominated metropolis understandably busier at night than it is during the day. Humans are enslaved for their blood but there's a problem: the purest form of O Negative is running out, leading to a desperate struggle to find a cure, while underground, a culture of 'subsider' inbred bat things are mutating due to the lack of supplies.


Enter guilt-ridden corporate scientist Ethan Hawke (suitably ethereal and moody) who, having been taken in by a rebel band of humans (led by Claudia Carvan and Willem Dafoe) pioneers the charge for a cure, in direct opposition to the needs of his boss Charles Bromley (a sinister Sam Neill). Will he succeed and save the human race? Keeping the balls juggling admirably, the directors also pack in a multitude of other conflicts ranging from brother-brother to father-daughter and even vampie-vampire.


Cleverly upturning the most bloodless of cliches, everything from the sun as an enemy (here it has other properties too) to the appearances of the vamps themselves (Neill's suited and booted villain could be a poster child), it's a zingy mix of contemporary smarts and archetypal myth. There's also the cleverest twist on a car chase in recent memory.


The Spierigs' confidence in their storytelling is enough to make one overlook the occasional ropey acting and underdeveloped themes (how, for example, did the world come to be run by vampires?) Witty in design (vampire housing leads directly to subways underground) and refreshingly gothic in outlook (Christopher Gordon's moody score), there's also some terrific splatter to keep audiences hooked. It's also never willing to take itself too seriously when a sharp one-liner from Dafoe's deep fried hunter can break the tension. It also, in the end, provides a pleasure of a more incidental kind: casting Ethan Hawke as a badass? We never thought we'd see the day(light).

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