Friday, October 30, 2009

Daybreakers (Halloween Horror Week 5 of 5)

Genre: Horror/Action/Thriller
Premise: (from IMDB) In the year 2019, a plague has transformed most every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vampires on a way to save humankind.
About: Michael and Peter Spierig are Australian-born brothers who first came onto the scene with a small Australian zombie film called, “Undead.” Co-writer/Co-director Michael has gone on record as saying when he started Daybreakers, he had never heard of Twilight, and became confused when t-shirts started popping up promoting “Edward the Vampire,” as he wondered how anyone had heard of his film (Edward is the name of the main character in both Twilight and Daybreakers). Lionsgate is said to be very high on the film, which is why they’re having screenings a full three months before its release. That’s pretty rare for the control freaks at the studios. Ethan Hawke was reluctant to join onto a vampire flick at first, but his agent convinced him to read the script and once he did, he fell in love. The rest, they say, is history.
Writers: Michael and Peter Spierig

Yeeeeeeeehaaawwwwwwwwwwww! Vampires! I love vampires. I especially love really good-looking badly directed marginally acted vampires. Those are my favorite vampires of all. I’m not sure when it was determined that acting really constipated for 90 minutes passed as a good vampire performance, but there are millions of teenage girls who apparently think it does! Whenever the obligatory vampire craze cycles back into Hollywood, I hold large parties where we all dress like famous vampires. I usually choose Count Chocula, which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the genre.

Okay so yes, I’m not the biggest fan of vampires. In fact, there are only two vampire movies I’ve ever enjoyed: The Lost Boys and last year’s wonderfully moody Let The Right One In (my favorite film of 2008). As you can see, both of them were untraditional, which proves that while I have my preferences, I’ll give any genre a chance if a writer can come up with a unique enough angle.

Daybreakers seems to have tapped into that requirement, as the trailer for the film feels more like a Matrix prequel than a vampire film. The look alone has me mentally pre-ordering tickets for January’s release. That and I seem to have some sort of man crush on Ethan Hawke. He’s got bad teeth, spouts clumsy philosophy, and is consistently annoying, yet strangely, I want to see everything he’s in. He’s like the anti-Orlando Bloom. So when Halloween Horror Week was shaping up, this script shot to the top of the list, which is why I’m concluding this wonderful week with it.

Daybreakers is sort of a Matrix/Blade hybrid. Except it’s not really an action film. There’s a little more thought involved here. Sometimes that gets the script into trouble (I found myself unclear about a couple of things), but for the most part the approach serves the script well.

It’s roughly ten years from today and the world population is almost exclusively vampires. Everything’s been retrofitted to handle this new reality. There are sidewalks underneath our normal sidewalks so that vampires can walk around during the day. Car windows aren’t just tinted out. They’re BLACKED out. Inside, a complex camera-LCD system allows drivers to see where they’re going. Humans are captured and harvested for their blood, kept alive so they can keep producing it. This definitely ain’t Kansas folks.

But things are looking bad for the vamps. There are so few humans actually left, that it’s estimated vampires will be out of blood within six months. Enter Ed Dalton, a blood doctor working at a pharmaceutical company who’s trying to come up with a blood substitute. Ed has a soft spot for humans, and hopes that if he can find this substitute in time, vampires won’t need to kill humans anymore. Charles Bromley, the suspiciously helpful vampire CEO of the company, seems to be in full support of Ed’s research. But Ed learns that while a blood substitute is definitely desired, Charles and his rich ilk will never give up the real thing. Humans will still die. The killing won’t end.

Ed soon runs into a renegade band of humans led by Audrey - so hot she could make a vampire’s blood boil. Audrey and her crew have way better ideas than a silly blood substitute. They’ve actually seen a vampire “cured” (turned back into a human) and they believe, with Ed’s help, they can bottle this cure, and turn all the vampires in the world back into humans.

Since cavorting with humans is considered a big no-no, if Ed is found hanging out with these bloodbags, he’ll surely be killed. So it’s a big gamble. But he decides to take the chance, and sets up shop in an old winery, where he begins his experiments. Eventually Bromley sends Ed’s own vampire brother after him, and it’s a race to finish the cure before they’re snuffed out and massacred.

Daybreakers is a high-concept idea that admittedly requires a bit of a leap to buy into. A world where vampires walk around freely like humans do today? Vampire politics? Blood-spiked cappuccinos? When we see news clips pop up saying things like, “China halts all blood exports,” it’s definitely something you’re either going to be onboard with or you’re not. But the thing is, the Spierig brothers have created such a detailed well-imagined universe here, that buying into it isn’t as hard as the concept might lead you to believe. I loved the underground walkways and the blacked out cars, and how the vampires have created sun protection suits, allowing them to go out in the middle of the day if they need to. It comes at the vampire world from more of a technical angle, which for me personally, is more interesting than whether Bella gets eaten by a werewolf or a vampire.

The script does have a few clogged arteries. We’re introduced to a man named Elvis, part of Audrey’s crew, who is the original “cured” vampire. However the explanation of how he was cured is either vague or lazy, cause I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out, even after reading it three times. He supposedly crashed his vampire protected car and was shot out into the daylight (the shot is in the trailer). Usually when a vampire in this world hits daylight, he bursts into flames. Except for Elvis, it turns him human again.

Uhhh, pardon me but…what?

Because bottling this event into a cure is such a huge part of the plot, it bothered me that a coherent explanation for why this particular vampire changed back was never given.

Other than that, though, the script really moves. It's essentially a pot-boiling thriller. The good guys have to find the cure before the bad guys find them. There’s a few battles, a couple of nice surprises, and the Spierigs did a nice job intertwining all the characters and making their plights more personal (i.e. It wasn’t just anyone who was trying to bring Ed down. It was his own brother). I also liked the way it ended. I won't tell you which side succeeds, but I will say that the victory was clever. Daybreakers is a fun read, which looks to have been made even better by the directors' vision.

Could this be the third vampire movie that I like? I guess we’ll have to wait until January to find out.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Speed up those deadlines people! In the script, the deadline is 6 months before vampires run out of blood. But if you’ll notice in the trailer below, it’s been changed to 1 month. By speeding up that “ticking time bomb,” everything in the script becomes more urgent. Six months is forever. It feels distant, beatable. One month is just around the corner. Psychologically, it feels like it’s bearing down on us, impossible to overcome. If it works for your story, always try to move your ticking time bombs up. You’ll notice an immediate increase in the script’s momentum.