“But I don’t want to be a vampire – how can I be cured?”
“We’ll set fire to you – the shock will restart your heart”.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard…”
And that’s one of the better aspects of Daybreakers – yes, the first release of 2010 that I see at the cinema may well turn out to be the worst. I’m not saying it’s bad (well, I am – but I haven’t explained why yet) but this film makes Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen look like a masterpiece.
The major problem with Daybreakers is an unusual one, this is a film that has far too many ideas and rather than try to resolve nay of the issues it creates it instead introduces another idea or issue as a means of opening things up. This in turn creates the problem that the mood is wholly inconsistent – the last twenty minutes have little in common with the opening twenty minutes in terms of plot, theme or visual theme. It’s almost as if the directors are trying to cram as many ideas as possible into the film in case they aren’t allowed to make another one.
The film begins as it means to go on with a cheap jump scare (I’m not against these – Drag Me To Hell was brilliant) that is then followed by twenty minutes that explains that vampires are now the dominant species on Earth and that the blood supply is beginning to run out. The protagonist is looking for a means of creating an artificial blood supply that will stop them turning into a pack of feral monsters when the supply runs out. All of this is shot in a slow, deliberate style that sets up the mood beautifully – at this stage the attack from one of the feral vampires even ramps up the sense of the extinction of the species quite nicely.
However it quickly goes downhill from here, with more characters being introduced, each bringing with them their own bit of story for no other reason than to introduce another issue to be resolved at some stage (say the sequel for example, this film sets out that stall quite early on). The problem is that each of these characters feels as if they are in their own little distinct film, with its own plot and mood. There’s the bad-ass vampire hunter from an action movie who’s there to crack wise and ensure the body count and action scenes are fairly constant. The mother figure caught in a survival horror story. The father / daughter dynamic that veers into death row drama. None of it sits comfortably with any other aspect of the film – the problem is that each of these ideas has enough space to breath and so they are all just forgotten about.
K pointed out this flaw perfectly, no one has a conversation in the film – they just explain what is going to happen next in case anything gets left behind.
Daybreakers problem lies in the fact that the bar has been raised considerably in recent years. Nightwatch was a film that propelled itself forward on its ideas, but had the sense to stop introducing new ones at the halfway stage and start to resolve some of the previous issues (less so with its sequel, but by that stage the director had his eye on Hollywood). Let The Right One In has set the standard for quiet, introspective vampire films (something this film clearly wants to be in the opening twenty minutes) by trying to show them as a reflection of society. Here instead it the subject is just used as a means of developing (cheap looking) special effects.
Now, I don’t expect every film to be high art (or I would be sorely disappointed most of the time) but I do expect them to have their own internal logic. But as the comment regarding fire and heart starting notes, the internal logic here doesn’t so much subvert the genre as throw it out of the window.
There is almost a glimmer of brilliance at the end – a late stage massacre is slowed down to a crawl until it looks almost like a historic painting, but given the horrors that have come before its too little, too late. Daybreakers sets up a fantastic premise, but then squanders it in a desire to create a franchise rather than a film.