Saoirse Ronan chews up the celluloid as a 16-year-old vampire, on the run with lusty Gemma Arterton, who looks in her period flashbacks as though she just stepped out of a classic Hammer Horror movie (and indeed, there’s a nod to Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darknessin the film).
Writer Moira Buffini has delivered a script that these two actors totally inhabit, Ronan with subtlety and tender beauty, Arterton a force majeure of hedonistic pragmatism. The familial relationship between the two, of freedom vs control, change vs habit, of nurture and protection, is a joy to watch as Ronan’s Eleanor stretches her 200-year-old adolescent wings.
In the background is the threat of a patriarchal order who don’t like women rocking their boat, with events set in motion by Johnny Lee Miller as bounder and cad, and Sam Riley as an understated hero-figure.
The casting is superb, the sets suitably atmospheric, and there are nods to vampire forerunners in Ruthven and Carmilla. The vampirism here is well drawn and consistent, drawing on a Caribbean version called a soucriant (read more in this excellent New York Times review).
The story is kept simple and is simply told, set to a soundtrack of classical and folk songs, and gorgeously presented by Jordan and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, allowing us to bask in the beauty: to sink in its warmth like Bathory into a bath.
I was saddened to hear tonight that the wonderful Ingrid Pitt has died.
Strangely enough, the news came just before Kirstyn and I went into the Joy 94.9 studio for a Sci-Fi and Squeam segment on Hammer Horror with a particular focus on the Karnstein Trilogy. (Dear Christopher Lee, please do take care of your health!)
Pitt starred in one of my favourite movies, The Vampire Lovers, a classic from the Hammer stable and the first of the Karnstein Trilogy, and also the erstwhile Countess Dracula (trailer). Non-horror viewers might know her from war film Where Eagles Dare.
But it was the elegance and fragility of Carmilla Karnstein that I most associate with the Polish actress who made her way to cult stardom in England. Vampire Lovers was one of the first movies to break the lesbian taboo on the mainstream big screen, and it did it with a poignancy that still holds in a day and age of much fancier sets and production values, and of course much greater overtness.
As one of Hammer’s women of horror, she’ll always be remembered.
Oh dear. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time. The vampires have taken over the world and established a night-time society, sadly seemingly stuck in much the same pattern of commerce as ours, but alas, they’ve literally drained their food supplies to the point of extinction (humans be warned: this could happen to you). It’s a race: to track down the last humans, to synthesise a blood replacement, or find a cure. At the end of the day, the future of the planet actually comes down to corporate greed. The leeches!
Daybreakers fails to deliver on its promise. Once the story starts and people start talking, it quickly turns into a bloody mess. Maybe that’s me looking for a shiny new take on vampirism when all that was ever on offer was just more schlock hanging off a neat idea. Nothing wrong with schlock, mind you; it’s just, I wanted more from this. I’m not sure why.
The Spierig brothers’ previous movie, Undead, was gloriously schlocky, even with aliens, and I loved it. So maybe I shouldn’t have expected this to be any different.
But, what the hell is with the bats? I haven’t seen such horrible effects since Hammer Horror (hurray, back online and makin’ movies!) dangled a stuffed one on wires and jigged its wings about. The bats, flitting about both night and day and glorying in swooping the camera, were inappropriate, cheap, tacky.
And where was the logic? Does not drinking human blood make vampires turn into primal bat-things, or doesn’t it? If vampires can survive on pigs’ blood a la Nick Knight, then why don’t they? Why does mixing blood with your coffee (just coffee, we presume, the only foodstuff on-screen – viscera notwithstanding) make it palatable? Why does Ethan (and his little heart-monitoring do-hickeys) not burn but Willem gets toasty scarred? Why does throwing gratuitous buckets of blood and hosting cannibalistic frenzies (really blurring the line between vampire and zombie, there, lads) make boys coo with glee?
And isn’t it a sad day, really, when you have to (presumably to secure funding) throw some weird-arse colour filter over your lens to try to disguise the fact you shot your movie in Australia, not the US of A. Location was hardly a factor in the plot, so why force the crap accents on otherwise wonderful actors? Admittedly, I was familiar with a hell of a lot of the scenery in Daybreakers, it being filmed around my former hometown, but I’m still scratching my head about the massive Moreton Bay fig having pride of place on a ridge somewhere in Nowheresville, USA.
Stupid lookouts who get surprised in daytime when they’re standing in the middle of a massive open space with 360-degree visibility; humans who simply must charge around in convoys at night; a seemingly endless stream of last-minute saves by the handy off-screen ally. And even in 2019 we’re still trying for the (presumably) heart shot with a crossbow. Oh God. And did I mention the bats??
I’m sorry, but ‘because it looks cool’ is not a sufficient answer.
So, Daybreakers for me is a B-grade vampire movie, maybe flitting down around the C+ level, which puts it on a par with the rest of the Aussie crop. Sigh.
[Addendum: What I liked about Daybreakers: the concept; the visualisation of the vampire society; the fact that being a vampire didn’t automatically make everyone a martial arts expert; no wire work; female lead Claudia Karvan not being made into some kind of sex-glamour-combat heroine (but she gets jumped twice, dude, so a little nous might’ve been nice); that the hero’s brother has the actual hero’s arc; Sam Neill]
Here, have some decent bats, care of a certain Nick Cave and his Birthday Party. And someone pass me a copy of Near Dark and a bottle of red. Cheers.