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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Daybreakers

May 9th, 2010

Daybreakers - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

I've said it many times in the past and I will say it many, many times more in the future: January is arguably the worst time of year to release a movie. Not only are the holidays over, meaning the box office potential is sharply down, but also the competition is extreme on both ends of the spectrum. You have massive blockbusters that are still going strong, as well as Oscar contenders that opened in limited release and are just now expanding wide. Into this, Daybreakers was thrown. In fact, it was the first wide release of the year. So how well does it fare?

The year is 2019 and a vampire plague has hit the planet. Less than 5% of the human population remains. This is really bad news for the humans, but just as bad news for the vampires, who are rapidly running out of a food sources. Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a scientist working for Bromley Marks who is trying to develop a blood substitute to save his species and the few remaining humans. His boss is Charles Bromley, a man who was dying of cancer when the plague hit. He considers vampirism a cure and sees humans as nothing more than a resource that can be exploited. Edward Dalton, on the other hand, sees humans as an endangered species that needs to be protected, hence his work. However, when he helps some humans escape the police, he comes in contact with a group of refugees led by Audrey. In turn, Audrey introduces him to Elvis, a former vampire that somehow found a cure. It is Edward's job to find out what that cure was, and if he can replicate it.

When a movie is described as a vampire movie, all sorts of cliches flood into your mind. Vampires have been a part of movies practically since the beginning of the art form. In fact, they exist in (nearly) all cultures from ancient times till today. So it takes a lot of originality for a film like this to truly stand out in this very crowded genre. And by a lot, I don't mean make the vampires sparkle. Fortunately, while it's nearly impossible to create a wholly original vampire movie, it doesn't take a whole lot to be original enough to be effective. Daybreakers is original enough.

Focusing on the vampires who are faced with the extinction is a plus. Normally, the stars of the movie are a group of humans that are trying to kill a vampire, or a small group of vampires, who are treated as little more than monsters. For a significant portion of this film, humans are not even present, and when they are introduced, it's as a resource, nothing more. The second part of the film sets it apart. Vampires could be driven to extinction not because they are being hunted, but because they were hunting humans too much and have destroyed their food supply. It's enough to stand out, while it gives the film a bit of political allegory as well, which is an added bonus.

Additionally, the acting is far superior than most low-budget horror films are stuck with. Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, and Sam Neill are all actors who need no introductions. However, the cast from down under Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman and others, are not outclassed. Granted, they are not going to win many acting awards for their performances here, but they are still a step up from most such films.

So it has a somewhat original storyline, good acting, political allegory, etc., but it is a horror film, so does it have enough blood? Yes. An emphatic yes. Granted, it does take a while to get to the truly bloody conclusion, but we do get there. There are some flaws in all of these areas, but they are minor compared to its overall strengths.

I do not have the DVD to review, but it appears to have the audio commentary track and the making of featurettes. The commentary track features the two directors, Michael and Peter Spierig, and the special effects creator, Steve Boyle. An excellent track that points out the strengths, and the weaknesses, of the film. (They point out, for instance, the cheap jump scare in the movie, and apologize for it.) The DVD has a making of featurette, but the Blu-ray has an "Extended" multi-part making of featurette... it's two hours long, so it covers practically every aspect of the making of the movie. Ironically, it starts with much of the cast talking about how they don't like making horror films.

On a side note, in the audio commentary they talk about PG horror vs. R-rated horror. I hate it when they say you can't have PG-13 horror. Jaws was PG. Granted, that was before PG-13 was around, but no one will honestly argue that it wasn't scary, despite the fact that it wasn't rated R. You can do horror without gore. In fact, using gore as a crutch can hurt the quality of the horror. At least they admit that when complaining about the state of sadistic horror.

The Blu-ray has several exclusive extras, including the extended version of the "making of" featurette. There is also a short film by the directors called The Big Picture, which is the first credit they have on IMDB. It's a very interesting short, but I saw the end coming. I think that says more about my personality than it does about the predictability of the short.

In addition to these two exclusives, there is a Picture-in-Picture track that uses the animatic / storyboards. There are also several BD-Live extras, including a running news ticker. "Lionsgate acquires One for the Money..." or "Kick-Ass" in theaters now. Obviously the Picture-in-Picture track is a better use of the BD technology, but this is also cool.

As for the film's technical presentation, the film looks nice for a low budget horror film with some stylistic choices. The vampire world is cold and black while the human world is warm and washed out, but it is hard to argue that this is an issue with the transfer and I can't really hold it against the Blu-ray. As for the audio... it's 7.1. It's a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track, which is rare. I spent extra on a 7.1 Home Theater system (actually, it's 7.2 but I don't have the second subwoofer) but it's rare that the extra two speakers get used at all. The fact that this is a smaller studio, Lionsgate, makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with the big six.

The Verdict

For a vampire film, Daybreakers does enough to be effective entertainment, even if doesn't really break the stereotypes of vampires, merely works within them. It's worth picking up for fans of the genre, while the Blu-ray is absolutely worth the extra money over the DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Daybreakers