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Before vampire fatigue sets in, leaving anything fanged and out for blood immediately dismissed due to an overextended trend, please permit "Daybreakers" a few moments of your time. While assembled with conventional visual elements and pushing a foreign oil allegory with a decided lack of subtlety, "Daybreakers" is a genre fun house worth the return trip to the fatigued war zone of vampiredom. Smartly constructed and lively all around, the gloom and doom submitted by filmmaking duo The Spierig Brothers is wildly entertaining and appropriately gushy with gore. Against all odds, "Daybreakers" is a blast.
In the year 2019, vampirism has taken over the world, with blood a hot commodity. Now with human feeding options reaching an all time low, the vampire community is waiting impatiently for a blood substitute to reach the market. For scientist Edward (Ethan Hawke), efforts to find a miracle cure have failed, panicking his corporate bosses (including Sam Neill). Into his life comes a small band of surviving humans, led by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a former vampire who happened upon a cure for his fanged affliction via vicious car accident, and now wants Edward's help to recreate it. Facing a future where vampirism could be wiped out, Edward has to choose between an allegiance to his own kind or the humans, who offer a brighter future far away from blood consumption.
And yes, this is another vampire picture with a character named Edward. However, this guy doesn't sparkle and mope. He doubts and smokes.
My initial hesitation with "Daybreakers" was brought on by the Spierig Brothers, who last created the 2004 zombie comedy, "Undead." I loathed "Undead" from top to bottom, finding it unfunny, sloppily made, and tedious all around. However, here's the "Daybreakers" miracle: it's an inventive picture, graciously rolling around in known elements, yet aware enough to form its own special personality. It's not a perfect picture, but there were times while watching the film where the Kubrickian spirit of it all felt like a genre head rush the likes of which rarely finds a way to the screen these days.
The Spierigs invite the viewer into a bleak future world of sinister dealings; a place where humans are kept in vast storage facilities, slowly sucked dry to feed a fearful nation starving for fresh gulps of blood. Of course, this is the saga of oil, and the screenplay provides more than enough wallops of the obvious to make sure the back row understands the subtext of the screenplay. When the politics take a nap, "Daybreakers" is an effectively creepy film, nicely atmospheric and menacing, taking the vampire populace seriously as conflicted characters. Further pressure is introduced through the monstrous mutation of the vampires at their most desperate and hungry, turned into bat-like ghouls who violently stalk the shadows in search of any possible nourishment.
The suspense of "Daybreakers" is top shelf, marvelously stoked by the directors, who show a real flair for chilling futuristic calamity. It's downright eerie the way the vampires go about their daily business, seemingly normal except for the way they stir blood into their coffee or stare out at their infertile world with glowing eyes. The Spierigs adore the ghoulish details and the enthusiasm takes "Daybreakers" far beyond common genre aspirations. Despite a low budget, the film feels comfortably epic, feeling out a world of vampires and humans at war, with a few unlucky souls caught in the middle.
Fighting for the humans is Elvis, and if there was one major misstep in the action, Dafoe would be it. It seems the Spierigs were a touch too fearful their oppressive screenplay would creep out the room to a point of revulsion, dreaming up the character of Elvis to provide needed comic relief. It leaves Dafoe dancing a jig while the rest of the film sits patiently in the dark. While the actor is a genius with the subversive smart-aleck routine, the performance and the character feel wrong for such an intriguingly abusive tone. "Daybreakers" is built sturdily enough to plunge even further into this uninviting landscape. Having Dafoe try on a Yosemite Sam persona only calls attention to itself, making Edward's trust in the humans all the more puzzling.
The AVC encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation on this BD has much to hurdle, working against highly processed cinematography and specific lighting cues. It's a moody picture with plenty of eye candy, and it's wonderful to report that the viewing experience is quite enjoyable, balancing the antiseptic corporate/vampire world with the blinding sun-drenched outdoors. Light grain helps to provide a filmic base for the events onscreen, but the image is very clean and exact. Colors are bold and heavily tinkered with, making their thematic intent easy to read, with a generous push of blues, reds, and golds to sell the contrast between the two worlds. Detail is scrubbed away slightly by the post-production layers, but facial work is nicely expressive and set design registers beautifully, with intricate vampire details thickening the entertainment value. Shadow detail is solid, but a few sequences are swallowed by inkiness.
The 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix is splendidly active, taking the challenge of the vampire nation seriously with a thrilling swirl of directional effects and forbidding scoring and sound effect cues. Surrounds are active with the swooshes of discharged weaponry and busting city activity, creating a lively audio track the elevates the movement of the images with a circular listening environment. LFE response is quite active during attack sequences and more demanding scoring segments. Dialogue is clean and comfortably processed, always discernable and assertively frontal. The track pulls the listener into the world of "Daybreakers" in a big way, and the waves of violence and drama are terrifically felt for the full runtime of the film. A French track is also included.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary with co-directors Peter and Michael Spierig and creature designer Steve Boyle is a breathless, informative, and merry track, supplied by three men clearly proud of their film. It's actually quite entertaining to hear the Spierigs discuss the picture and its various special effect challenges, where they only turned to CGI out of absolute necessity -- these guys love a good practical effect. The tone of the track is contentment, with the trio detailing how they turned 40 shooting days into an ambitious tale of vampire upheaval, sharing stories on the hectic pace of the production, the diverse attitudes of the cast, and the tricks needed to fill out the "Daybreakers" world without breaking the budget. It's a chatty commentary event and brings about a new appreciation for the Spierigs.
"The Making of 'Daybreakers'" (121:38) is a massive, marathon, monstrous, and definitive document of the film's production. From the first twitch of an idea (born from Lionsgate's enthusiasm for "Undead") to the release of the picture, nearly every step of filmmaking is covered, and in rather extensive detail too. It's a marvelous record of creativity and professional pressure, as the Spierigs came together to make a film they would be proud of, yet could please the studio as well, as this was their first film with a substantial budget. We're talking animatics, scripting, casting, rehearsals, creature design and creation, the film shoot, editing, effects, sound, score, completion, testing, reshooting, and a premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2009. Wow. However, one topic seems to be missing: the year the film spent on the Lionsgate shelf awaiting release. Mystery aside, this documentary is an outstanding experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the mechanics of filmmaking.
"BonusView: Storyboards and Animatics" is a pop-up feature that runs during the film, comparing early planning with the final product.
"The Big Picture" (13:51) is a Spierig Brother short film from 2000 that doesn't exactly tie into the "Daybreakers" tone, but shows off their visual style and sense of humor.
"Poster Art Gallery" showcases seven marketing designs.
And a Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Daybreakers" conjures a convincing mood, punctuated by a sharp production design, vivid creature-feature gore splashes, and a few inventive action sequences (a car shoot-out, where Edward has to avoid scorching light shafts made from bullet holes, is a film highlight). Despite a huge thespian derailment, I found myself completely sucked into this vampire society, legitimately fearful of its capacity for punishment. The Spierigs have pulled a delightful 180-degree career spin with "Daybreakers." I used to dread the prospect of their unavoidable "Undead" follow-up. Now, I cannot wait for their next picture to arrive.