First of all, you will notice that I am not writing about the epic, everyone-loves-me wonderbeast that is Avatar, why do you ask? I will answer briefly, I didn’t enjoy it enough, I don’t care and in my mind in 15 years the film will be little more than a grab bag of beautiful effects – a cute time capsule of what was possible at the end of the first decade of the 21st century and nothing more. Simply, not enough to warrant more of my time than this.
Secondly, Paul and I went to see Daybreakers. This gift is from little known and little experienced Spierig brothers out of sunshiney Australia, they have been the lucky so and so’s to give me my first vampire movie of the year. Right now everyone is vampire crazy, I say “right now”, naturally in my opinion everyone’s been vampire crazy since 1819 when Dr. P thought it was a good idea to put a bloodsucker in a good suit, and our cinemas have had blood fever since 1922. but I digress.
There are several things I like about this movie right out of the gate: It has Ethan Hawke in it, and the vampires are the majority population. I prefer vampire movies about vampires not about vampire slayers. The film is set in 2019, by which point (fingers crossed this’ll actually happen in the next 12 months) most of the population have been transformed by a blood borne vampire virus, there are little hunted hamlets of humans left and those that are caught are farmed for their blood like cattle. The vampire world is much like the human world, no one really goes out in the day, they have a massive network of underground walk-ways called Subwalks (and presumably underground malls, cinemas etc.) they live in neat, modular homes, and drive elegant American-made vehicles, with video cameras and excellent sun visors (none of your accordion foil here!) They drink blood in their coffee and everyone smokes (and why bloody not? I would.) However, the speedy spread of the virus has result in rather too few humans. In the face of running out of blood, some vampires drink animal blood, such as the unfortunately named hero, Edward (Hawke), some go crazy and attack other vampires or self-cannibalize and the blood farming company is working on a blood substitute (TruBlood anyone?) which is what Edward does, he’s a vampire hematologist, he’s also a classic angst-ridden-clinging-onto-vestiges-of-my-humanity vampire. This vampire society has some problems, running out of blood, social issues and because of poverty some vampires going mad and living below the surface of the city and mutating into Nosferatu-esque bat-vampires, with low IQ’s and intense bloodlust, these beasties are breaking into nice vampire’s HOMES!
So, the basic issue is that Edward would prefer to find a cure for vampirism, while his boss (Sam Neill) would prefer to find a blood substitute so they can continue to farm some humans and also repopulate the human race. Long story short, Edward meets some fringe humans, and realizes that vampirism can be cured by controlled exposure to sunlight – you can imagine the issues this causes. (Turns out that Willem Defoe was a vampire, named Elvis, who crashed his car, got shot through his windshield, burst into flame and was thrown into a sewage channel. When he emerged he was human again, as if the sun kickstarted his heart – fanciful but interesting.)
I’m not going to tell you the whole story, what I am more interested in is the treatment of the vampire. First off, they are very normal vampires – pallid, strange eyed, strangely beautiful, graceful creatures, strong and immortal. They can be killed by fire, sun, beheading and if they get staked they burst into flame (spectacular). They need blood, there is not a crucifix in sight and they cast no reflection (“Angel, how do you shave?”). It’s great to see a vampire movie allow the vampires to kill, to feed and to be predators. These vampires aren’t softened into petting zoo curiosities for preteen girls, or hormoned up to dizzying sexual heights for frustrated women – they are a mixture of classic vampires and a Underworld like coldness. The film is vibrant and full of deep gore, disembowelment, decapitation, exsanguination, self-cannibalization, hoarding. It’s a beautiful sight to behold after watching Bill and Sookie make love in the cemetery and Dr. Cullen passively patch up Bella.
The film is shot with traditional vampire sentiments, their world is dark – nighttime, full of tones of blue and gray while human environments are gold, brown and pulsing with flaws and humanity. You want to like the humans and feel the telltale draw to the vampires that the Daddy-Vamps of yore were so intended to inspire. Interestingly, you never need to watch them kiss, pet or screw – which is a blessing because they’re dead and we all know that’s not possible. What’s also interesting is the fact that vampirism is clearly figured as a disease, a blood disease – as it was in Dracula.