30 January 2010

Movie Review: Adventureland



2009, 107mins, 15
Director: Greg Mottola
Writer: Greg Mottola
Cast includes: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
UK Release Date: 11th September 2009

“Adventureland” is a curiously vanilla production; at times very funny but boasting a truly unremarkable central narrative. Coming courtesy from the director of “Superbad” maybe I was expecting something more aggressively energetic and spunky, but still false hopes don’t account for the somewhat lifeless final product. Maybe I’m coming down a little harsh as I did find the movie sporadically entertaining, but then again can the odd comedic buzz compensate for an eternity of bad casting and awkward chemistry. I think not.

“Adventureland” is the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg) a high school graduate who after his Father’s demotion at work is forced to get a summer job. James ends up at Adventureland a low rent theme park populated by some of the weirdest folks he’s ever met. James slowly ingratiates himself into the park way of life and becomes especially fond of fellow employee Em (Kristen Stewart), eventually setting his sights on her for romantic purposes. Em is however a complicated individual with issues of her own, not least of which is a relationship with the substantially older repairman Connell (Ryan Reynolds). The film follows James as he tries to understand and win Em over, all the while working hard so his dreams of college education can be kept alive.

The casting in “Adventureland” is seriously unconvincing. Greg Mottola’s last movie “Superbad” was aided by a skilled placement of certain actors into specific roles but here nearly everyone feels out of place or boring. Eisenberg’s shtick is growing old at a rate that would make Michael Cera blush, here reworking the same screen persona we’ve seen from him in every performance he’s ever given. James is a likable dork but Eisenberg just pulls the same old fumbling and mumbling style of acting he’s grown rather dependent on; and it’s very dull. Kristen Stewart is also slowly pissing away any goodwill I may have felt for her in the past, recycling her own brand of moody and snarky characterization for the umpteenth time. She doesn’t have the charm or raw heart that we sense Mottola wants the audience to see in Em and her chemistry with Eisenberg is nonexistent. I enjoyed Bill Hader and an underused Kristen Wigg as the park owners but everyone else is bland and unadventurous, Reynolds in particular should be looking for better screen personas than the laughably one note Connell.

The screenplay by Mottola is a mixed bag, the comedy elements are sharp and well structured but the dramatic and emotional undercurrent feels incomplete and forced. Not once did I really buy Em and James as a genuine summer romance in the making. Indeed a bond that builds up between James and local hottie Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) has a more natural and believable texture. Adding to the problem is an inherent lack of charm or fresh perspective, everything about “Adventureland” has an incredibly been there done that vibe. I did laugh quite a few times during the picture and these parts were very satisfying and a nice relief from the unappealing fervid alliances at the stories centre, yet they aren’t strong enough to warrant a recommendation on their own. It’s also worth noting that Mottola has toned down the vulgarity several decibels, this is miles from the raunchy earnestness of “Superbad”.

Mottola opts for low-fi visuals in his tale of summer loving and I guess this at least suits the restrained and small scale story. The soundtrack is predictably angst filled but fairly listenable and in these small areas I guess “Adventureland” gets it right. However in the much wider and more important facets it screws itself through dodgy casting and a general lack of fizz. I wanted to like the movie but sadly I found “Adventureland” to be a crushing disappointment.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

29 January 2010

Movie Review: Halloween 2 (2009)



Halloween 2
2009, 105mins, 18
Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
Cast includes: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie
UK Release Date: 9th October 2009

Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of “Halloween” was not an atrocious film but rather a misguided one, doing some interesting things in its opening hour before fluffing the second half in a slavish imitation of John Carpenter’s seminal classic. The film made money but wasn’t particularly well received by the fanboy populous; shunning it in a fit of enraged geekery. Given such a response it’s perplexing that Zombie felt he needed to give the property a second run (though it’s no shock the sequel exists, the first did light the box-office on fire) or that he even could given the conclusive nature of his 2007 effort. Yet proving that you can’t keep the boogie man down we now have “Halloween 2”, and boy is it a peculiar thing. The movie is an utter and unforgivable mess but some mileage can be drawn from the wild concepts lying within, if “Halloween” 07 was Zombie paying homage to Carpenter than “Halloween 2” is his own crazed and ill judged take on the material. It’s fairly awful – but also undoubtedly a defiant original.

The picture opens a year after the events of Zombie’s first flick. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, who is again toxic in the role) is strung out and distressed concerning the murderous rampage Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) conducted last Halloween in pursuit of her. Many of her friends and family have been slain though the promise that the masked lunatic is finally dead gets her through the days. However that was obviously never going to be the case. Michael’s body was never recovered and as a result he still stalks the countryside waiting for Halloween to roll around again, so he might take another go at capturing his unknowing sister. Powered by extremely odd visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and a white horse; Michael heads to the little town of Haddonfield to finally unite his family and of course do a whole lot of killing.

In fairness Zombie’s sequel is no worse than the original 1981 “Halloween 2”, and he’s a far better director than that film’s poisonous helmer Rick Rosenthal. Whilst Rosenthal’s unwatchable sequel was like sitting through a dodgy amalgamation of Carpenters first movie and a “Friday the 13th” knock-off, Zombie’s is at least totally unique in all its horrendousness. The biggest concern is the confused narrative and epic mishandling of the central story, there are half a dozen good ideas bobbling about inside the picture but not one is given adequate air to breathe. Zombie splits the film into three distinct strands, one featuring Laurie and her painful mental situation, one with a newly popularized Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) thanks to his bestseller based on Myers, and one following Michael as he pursues his murderous goal. The Myers subplot is the least enticing; the combination of ethereal imagery and relentless bloodshed becomes wearisome and exhausting very quickly. The visions he sees of his mother are laughable and seem hideously out of place, despite Zombie acknowledging their psychological importance in a first frame disclaimer. Some of the visuals this encourages are stylish but the overall concept is out of place within the story and as a result it doesn’t work.

Taylor-Compton is poor as Laurie and induces very little sympathy or an organic sense of despair; it’s a false and lazy job that scuppers large mounds of her arc. The best plotline is that of Loomis and this is carried thanks to a decent performance from McDowell (really the films main redeeming feature) who does a controlled and enjoyable job of subtly expressing the characters guilt. His acting gets a bit hammy in the unremarkable climax but overall it’s the Loomis aspect of the picture that satisfies most. Zombie never really threads these separate ideas together in a cohesive fashion, his attempts to make them sit comfortably together are hackneyed and tender footed. The movie ranks right up top as one of the goriest and most brutal this franchise has offered, but such consistent bloodletting fits well within Zombie’s ugly and bleak view of the world. Where Carpenter made Haddonfield a quaint and pretty community, Zombie envisions it as a place with more strip clubs than shops. It’s a bleak and relentlessly seedy looking location and this too eventually grates and stirs annoyance.

“Halloween 2” is bursting with imagination but ultimately the end result is mostly unwatchable. Even in its execution of slasher fundamentals like suspense it disappoints, an area that Zombie’s previous stab at the universe actually handled modestly well. The director has come up with several additives to spice up the event, but as a whole it feels cluttered and is more successful as a comedy than it is a horror. “Halloween 2” isn’t quite a nadir for this franchise but despite the audacity of the filmmakers it’s still a colossal failure.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

25 January 2010

The films of 2009 - Best and Worst


2009 was a pretty good year to be at the movies, I actually felt the quality of productions to be higher and the number of stinkers to be fewer than usual. Oh there were still many horrible movies and huge disappointments, but overall I feel my top and bottom 10 lists display 2009 as a year that can be remembered for more good than bad. As I’m conducting these lists I’ve still not seen “An Education”, “The Lovely Bones” or “Up in The Air” but I honestly feel the lists are late enough as it is (January is nearly over) and so without further ado let’s get on with it. One last thing though. Several people privy to my selection before publication bashed the absence of “Up”, from my top 10 or honourable mentions, but I honestly didn’t feel it warranted inclusion, although it was a contender for the latter category.

My Top 10 of 2009
1.Inglourious Basterds
2.Avatar 3-D
3.District 9
4.The Road
5.Funny People
7.Star Trek
8.Public Enemies
9.(500) Days of Summer

Honourable Mentions: Hunger, The Hangover, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Drag Me To Hell The Hurt Locker, Moon, Observe and Report, Trick r’Treat

Some of my choices garnered a bit of flack (Bemusement at “Funny People” being better than “Star Trek” and “The Hurt Locker” has been a popular rebuke) but overall my choices display much alignment with the common consensus. My bottom 10 has been attacked for not containing “Miss March” (I thought it was bad, just not as bad as most) but overall I feel it gives the awful movies of 2009 their due.

My bottom 10 of 2009

1.S. Darko (I’m aware it went straight to DVD, but it really did suck)
2.Lies and Illusions (Another direct to disc clunker)
3.The Unborn
5.The Twilight Saga: New Moon
6.Aliens in the Attic
7.Dragonball Evolution
8.Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
9.The Ugly Truth
10.The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Dishonourable Mentions: Echelon Conspiracy, 31 North 62 East, The Fourth Kind, Shorts, Management, Bride Wars, Pandorum, Obsessed

And for good measure.........

The Top 5 most disappointing movies of 2009 – (because mediocrity deserves recognition too)

1.Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
3.Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs
4.The Box
5.Year One

Err......I guess you just call these mentions: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Surrogates, The International

So agree or disagree with my selections – leave your thoughts below.

24 January 2010

Movie Review: The Road



The Road
2009, 111mins, 15
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer (s): Joe Penhall, Cormac McCarthy
Cast includes: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker
UK Release Date: 8th January 2010

“The Road” is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, the very man who penned “No Country for Old Men” into a novel before the Coen brothers took it on a rampage of awards success. Whilst it would be hard to say that “No Country for Old Men” was a warm or fuzzy movie it looks positively upbeat in comparison to the bleak post apocalyptic world of “The Road”, featuring an Earth devoid of natural beauty and with small groups of cannibalistic humans moving across the continents looking for their next meal. The film follows an unnamed man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they move across the barren and smoking world, looking for solace and safety near the Coast. However the journey is riddled with perils and food is constantly in short supply, only adding to the insurmountable concern that their destination may offer no more relief than the godforsaken wasteland that the planet has turned into.

The desperation that is etched all over the production is communicated brilliantly; everything about “The Road” is downbeat and wonderfully atmospheric. From a narrative perspective things feel hopeless due to the undefined nature of the global catastrophe, and in the way that Mortensen’s central character barely understands the need for the heinous quest he’s undertaken. Director Hillcoat has also done a fantastic job of making the environments seem uninhabitable and utterly devoid of the beauty and life that one might associate with promise and good fortune. The lead performance courtesy of Mortensen is also something of a marvel and it truly is a wonder that at this juncture so deep in Awards season the actor hasn’t been given more recognition for his sterling work. “The Road” is decidedly not a “fun” time at the movies but it is a superlatively executed and compelling story, laced with a dank yet stylish visual composition.

The greatest attribute the picture boasts is Mortensen’s awesome leading performance. Gruffly carved out but with a tentative softness the character is a difficult one to get right, yet Mortensen nails it with a rich and emotionally restrained tour de force, communicating his feeling with supreme skill and with the sort of low key emoting that allows the product to feel truthful. He handles his relationship with Smit-McPhee well and resonates the contrasting views of their situation with aplomb, despite the young actor’s bland performance. It’s a testament to Mortensen that he can make this vital dynamic work, even whilst Smit-McPhee is so obviously ordinary. Charlize Theron appears as Mortensen’s wife in flashbacks and shows great dramatic chops with limited screen time; certainly the shared scenes with Mortensen feel tragic in the way their relationship disintegrates in parallel with the world around them. It’s no spoiler to say that the Theron character is dead beyond the dreaming and reminiscing of Mortensen’s mind, but much like the actual epidemic that has consumed Earth the film keeps her specific fate ambiguous and kisses her goodbye in a touching and memorable fashion.

At 111 minutes the film is by no means short yet is holds the viewer in a trance from start to finish, inducing much tension, despair and many tearful moments along the way. With roving bands of flesh gobbling maniacs having inherited the Earth it’s not surprising that Hillcoat plugs for a few ferociously suspenseful instances of horror styled cinema, at times “The Road” feels like a really well designed and intelligently made chase movie. Yet to slap it with such a generic title would be to do every other remarkable facet of the feature a disservice, it is after all a dramatically ripe and phenomenally shot motion picture too. Joe Penhall is the writer credited with the adaptation and it’s an award worthy bit of work, holding the bleak spirit of McCarthy’s story close to its heart yet also fleshing out the characters and capturing a freeze frame of utter sadness that will move even the stoniest heart. One also has to point out that such a cheerless and hopeless scenario could be mugged for cheap tear jerking theatrics, but Penhall refuses, delivering an affecting yet deadly serious and organic screenplay. Those seeking a slate of post-apocalyptic melodramatics will have to look elsewhere, that’s not what “The Road” is pushing.

Hillcoat’s aesthetic sensibility is gorgeous and he creates a stunning apocalyptic vision in “The Road”. The film has a grey and washed out look that suits the mood perfectly and goes splendidly with the fantastic central story of a father protecting his son. I guess in many ways with a decent budget this would be the easiest part of the production to execute, yet in its own way a believable setting is vital, and Hillcoat has created just that through sublime cinematography and creative shot construction. Every frame in the picture looks like a work of art, carefully composed so as to create a total sense of lifelessness and despondency. The musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is also highly impressive, a low key affair that fits gracefully into proceedings rather than drowning or upstaging them.

I was enthralled and rendered spellbound by “The Road”, a film which translates a critically acclaimed piece of literature into a motion picture worthy of the same reputation and accolades. Mortensen and Hillcoat have together created an apocalyptic picture which borders on the realms of masterpiece and soars on the wings of unabated passion and undiluted skill. I had high expectations for “The Road” and yet somehow the movie surpassed them, a rare occurrence in modern Hollywood and one fully worth celebrating.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

23 January 2010

Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer



(500)Days of Summer
2009, 95mins, PG-13
Director: Marc Webb
Writer (s): Scott Neustadter, Michael. H. Weber
Cast includes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Clark Gregg
Release Date: 17th July 2009 (Limited)

2009 was not a great year for romantic comedies. Films like “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth” dominated the genre and were for the most part uniformly awful. “(500) Days of Summer” is however the ultimate remedy to such uninspired and revolting romantic indulgences, firing up a brilliantly shot, well acted and poignantly written film that treats its audience with respect and integrity. Just recollecting off the top of my head I would probably say “(500) Days of Summer” is the best rom-com since 2007’s “Knocked-Up”, and in truth once again my faith in the genre has been somewhat restored.

The film follows the romance of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) two very different people with very different outlooks on love. For Tom his life has been in pursuit of “the one”, the very thing he believes Summer to be. However Summer is a far more free spirited person and isn’t looking for anything serious, she wants a friendship with added benefits, no more or no less. The film follows their relationship over a 500 day span and outside of chronological order, allowing the audience to appreciate the highs and lows. At the very beginning the movie makes a disclaimer that “(500) Days of Summer” isn’t a traditional love story, giving viewers a fair idea of where all this is going, but allowing them to get caught up in a delightful journey rather than the destination.

The thing that really elevates “(500) Days of Summer” above the general rom-com riffraff is its raw and emotionally honest way of telling the story. Director Marc Webb has composed a unique film in every single way, visually it’s beautiful and frontloaded with quirk and imagination, but his translation of the screenplay into film is powered with a truly unrelenting emotional focus and ability to draw such splendid performances from his young cast. In devising such a finely tuned film Webb has made it clear he’s a name to watch.

Gordon-Levitt is tasked with carrying the movie, he appears in 99% of the shots and everything is seen from his viewpoint. Levitt has in the last few years slowly been building a sturdy career for himself through several good choices, and “(500) Days of Summer” continues the trend nicely. Tom is always likable and Levitt taps into some very rich emotional material to really form the character into something beyond the usual rom-com archetype. Levitt through his mannerisms and appearance also is a perfect actor to try and channel a sense of puppy dog desperation, he’s a hopeless romantic and when “expectations” and “reality” don’t align in one particular scene the actor is heartbreakingly good. Deschanel doesn’t require as much depth but she has a tough job in keeping Summer lovable despite her questionable actions within the central relationship, but overall the actress completes the task well. The film has no qualms about exploiting her dreamy good looks and bizarre charm, but Deschanel herself works hard to keep Summer from descending into the realms of bitchiness. The two leads have a terrifically fizzy chemistry something that only goes to make the denouement even more upsetting and poetically savage. Throughout the entire picture it feels like they should be together, any other result just smacks of tragedy and misfortune.

The screenplay is occasionally very funny but for the most part the movie is focused on fleshing out the lead characters and constructing the romance. Keeping an audience interested and entertained when the end result is highlighted so early in the movie requires sterling filmmaking and a relentless creativity when forming the other segments of the story, something that “(500) Days of Summer” consistently does. At times Webb debatably goes too far with the indie sensibility but for the most part it’s well balanced and good fun, the sequence which takes place after Tom’s first sexual encounter with Summer is a joy to watch and a prime example of how well this sort of weirdness can work in the correct hands. The script includes several subsidiary characters but they exist primarily to provide counter perspectives on relationships or catalysts for the Tom and Summer romance, the enterprise far more fascinated with providing the honest and at times painful views Tom has on the girl of his dreams. I expect that the believability the film brings to the romance will allow it to source a genuine cult following, people connect with what they themselves can feel and “(500) Days of Summer” brings a completely organic and refreshingly real take on love to the table.

I adored “(500) Days of Summer” and feel that with genuine ease it represents one of the best cinematic offerings 2009 provided. It’s a beautifully made film and tells a compellingly engaging story; certainly I doubt you’ll have seen much like it in the past. If like me you have become distressed by the onslaught of heinous and unoriginal romantic comedies of late, pictures like this are a superlative antidote, and I hope Marc Webb continues to provide excellent films that remould the genres from which they stem. This is a fabulous motion picture and one that I would recommend not just to rom-com fans, but cinema lovers in general.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

21 January 2010

DVD Verdict Review: The Invention of Lying



Review Link:

20 January 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Pandorum



Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/pandorum.php

17 January 2010

Movie Review: Sorority Row



Sorority Row
2009, 101mins, R
Director: Stuart Hendler
Writer (s): Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger, Mark Rosman (original screenplay)
Cast includes: Briana Evigan, Jamie Chung, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Audrina Patridge, Julian Morris, Carrie Fisher
Release Date: 11th September 2009

“Sorority Row” is better than I expected. Such a confession deserves to be placed at the front of any review as does my admittance that my expectations were hanging somewhere in the region of rock bottom for this one. The film actually manages a few darkly humorous moments, at least one good performance and a modestly intriguing middle act, something of a revelation given the dross I was anticipating. Directed by the largely unexposed Stuart Hendler and written by “Good Luck Chuck” scribe Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger the film is better than it has any right to be. That said, It’s hard to say I recommend “Sorority Row”, the film after all is no better than average. Those who decide to chuck a copy of the film into their home entertainment devices might be surprised by how watchable the picture is in fits and bursts, but overall “Sorority Row” is an inherently ordinary slasher experience.

The sisters of the Theta Pi sorority decide to play a prank on one of their philandering boyfriends on the night of a blazing party They convince his frustrated girlfriend Megan (Audrina Patridge) to feign death at his hands and thus through him into an uncontrollable state of panic. However the joke turns sour when during a fit of guilt and desperation the girl’s accidently convince the traumatised sleaze to begin dismembering the body, leaving them with a real corpse on their hands. Despite the protestations of Cassidy (Briana Evigan) the group decide to hide the body and never speak of it again, devising a story that leaves Megan as a lost soul forever disappeared from the people that love her. However 8 months later as the girls prepare to graduate they receive odd text messages that suggest someone else knows about their murderous past, and quickly these veiled threats turn into a spate of horrific murders as the sisters are picked off one by one.

“Sorority Row” is a technically well constructed motion picture, the cinematography is great, Hendler conducts a few surprisingly ambitious camera tricks and the editing is rapid in a fashion that isn’t totally repellent. Certainly the filmmakers on this venture appear to be a group that given stronger material might be able to make some sort of visual imprint on popular cinema, it would be interesting to see how Hendler copes with a more impressive scale and intelligent script in the future. However whilst he’s created a more palatable horror effort than I pre-empted there are still too many flaws in “Sorority Row” for me to give him a passing grade on his feature length debut. “Sorority Row” is by turns occasionally quite funny but it’s a gratingly familiar stalk and slash production, the kills are bland and genuine suspense only makes intermittent appearances.

The characters are all one dimensional but some of the actresses channel much more entertainment value from their paper thin personas than others. Leah Pipes who plays the groups resident bitch Jessica is brilliant, she really succeeds in creating a character that audiences will truly love to hate. When Pipes is featured the picture seems more colourful and certainly more assured from a comedic standpoint, it’s a vibrant and delightfully ugly performance that actually kicks “Sorority Row” up a notch in several vital places. The other girls are far less inventive with their parts and border on dull, Evigan is the closest to a heroine we get and is probably given the most interesting character, but the actress doesn’t seem bothered about doing much interesting with the material. Jamie Chung is a weak actress selected purely because she has a pretty face and looks good in a bikini whilst Margo Harshman is broad (rarely funny) comic relief. Rumer Willis shows good lungs as a geeky screen queen and is probably the most sympathetic sorority member, but at the end of the day she just feels like meat in the room. Everyone else is either included simply to be carved up, act as a plot device or because they look good when naked, though it’s always nice to see Carrie Fisher, here playing the feisty sorority mother for Theta Pi.

Hendler forecasts his kills a little too bluntly and whilst the middle section boasts a watchable mystery element, this dissipates due to a finish that boasts one red herring too many. I had a fundamental problem with the killer’s identity in “Sorority Row” after the writers do away with a few logical candidates they reveal the blade wielding maniac to be the last person you’d expect. This would normally be a cause for celebration but the problem here is the reasoning behind the murders becomes weak and the narrative explanation even more frustrating. It’s as if Stolberg and Goldfinger wanted to unleash such an unexpected twist that they picked their killer out of a hat as their screenplay neared completion because the identity is shockingly senseless. The structure of the movie and the murder scenes themselves are vanilla, there’s gore and MacGuffins a plenty but the whole enterprise feels welded from a very generic template.

I’m definitely willing to provide the movie props for its cold hearted yet amusing sense of humour, but as a horror picture I’ve got plenty of reservations. It doesn’t attempt anything particularly new or even fresh when it comes to chills and this is an unforgivable annoyance. I wouldn’t go as far to call the film a puffed up bore but it’s certainly forgettable. I suppose it’s only fair to acknowledge the movie is (surprise surprise) a loose remake. I can’t really compare it to its 1983 predecessor “The House on Sorority Row” as I’ve never seen the older venture, but I’m assured by peers and friends that the movies are modestly different, certainly the term shot for shot is reputedly completely inappropriate. It’s important to reiterate the fact that I found “Sorority Row” more bearable than I suspected but be wary that doesn’t mean it’s a brilliant or even particularly good film. Comfortably average is where the narrative mostly aims and disappointingly that’s exactly where the project is content to sit.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers



2010, 98mins, R
Director (s): The Spierig Brothers
Writer (s): The Spierig Brothers
Cast includes: Ethan Hawke, Claudia Karvan, Isabel Lucas, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill
Release Date: 8th January 2010

Vampires are pretty much the most popular monsters on the planet right now; one only has to look at the recent glut of bloodsucker filled films to draw such a conclusion. Since 2007 we’ve been treated to amongst others “30 Days of Night”, “Let the Right One In” and the bizarrely popular “Twilight” pictures all movies of variable quality but equally all movies that put the vampire at the forefront of their narratives. “Daybreakers” is the latest offering to revel in the demonic leeches and all the mythology that goes with them, but despite vampire fatigue fast approaching multiplexes worldwide, “Daybreakers” is a surprisingly entertaining and original production. Directed by the Spierig brothers with an eye for horrific detail the film is a relentlessly enjoyable thriller that doesn’t shy away from gore but maybe more importantly it seeks to provide a set of accomplished performances too.

The movie opens in 2019 some ten years after an unidentified infection has spread and turned the world into one inhabited by vampires. The creatures have a civilised and remarkably similar existence to humans, only they sleep during the day and take blood with their coffee instead of milk. However a problem has emerged in the revelation that only 5% of the human population now remains, meaning that a shortage of blood to feed on has hit a critical level (a metaphor for oil, clearly). Government scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) has been charged with finding a substitute by blood mogul Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) but has of late found no success. Adding urgency to the matter is the appearance of “subsiders”, a breed of terrible mutants that through their starvation have been twisted into ghoulish and emotionless shadows of their former selves. As Edward works away trying to find a solution he stumbles across a group of humans led by ex-vampire Elvis (Willem Dafoe), and alongside them puts his focus into curing vampirism rather than seeking a temporary relief for the condition. However Bromley isn’t happy to learn of Edward’s change in heart, and channels all his power into halting the scientists’ progress and wiping out the humans.

I was truly bewildered by how convivial and rambunctious an effort “Daybreakers” is and whilst I won’t be craving for more vampire pictures in the near future, this is damned enough reason to demand more from the Spierig brothers. The movie also written by the dynamic siblings is fused with plenty of imagination and playful cartoon archetypes, which coupled with their stylish direction and taste for gore makes them a delectable mainstream proposition. I admire that “Daybreakers” tries to add in a contemporary commentary on the current crisis surrounding oil, but really the movie is a rousing success on the grounds of its sheer determination to deliver a satisfying slice of horror with a side order of thrills.

The screenplay is an intelligently written and relatively well stitched together piece that focuses more on character than bombastic action or yawn inducing night stalking. Indeed a core criticism I would level at the picture is it features mostly ordinary action scenes; they’re perfectly watchable just not as intuitive or ambitious as the rest of the film. The dialogue holds up well against other genre contemporaries but the real delight is in the roster of engaging characters and cool ideas that translate the vampire legacy into a terrifically impressive future setting. The Spierig brothers have pretty much addressed every issue a vampire could have with contemporary life and done it with skill and an appreciated undertone of humour, the plot takes itself quite seriously so it’s nice that the backdrop offers a lighter and more amusing sense of relief.

Ethan Hawke is solid rather than extraordinary as Edward; certainly he’s upstaged by a few of his more animated co-stars. That said the actor deserves credit where it is clearly due and that’s in the realm of tortured uncertainty and moral dissatisfaction. Edward is predictably the only vampire in the story who regrets his current condition and empathises with the hunted humans, but whilst the personal demons aren’t surprising Hawke at least applies a layer of credible gravitas and believability. More electric are Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, the latter playing the bad guy with a wonderful theatricality and desire to unsettle the audience. Neill has been part of some great films in his career (“Jurassic Park” is a modern classic) but in recent years his output has been irregular and inconsistent. “Daybreakers” rectifies that unfortunate situation by giving the actor a chance to chew the scenery with aplomb. Dafoe also ramps up the shenanigans to 11 in his turn as a smart talking member of the human resistance with an unusual past, we’ve seen him do it before, but it’s still great fun to behold. Elsewhere less impressionable performances are made bearable thanks to above average writing. Isabel Lucas at least has a good arc to draw on as Bromley’s unhappy tearaway daughter whilst Claudia Karvan creates a tolerable dynamic with Hawke despite her mostly wooden acting.

Visually the movie is attractive without being intrusive, and the Spierig’s avoid style over substance by dosing the picture with a healthy amount of character building subplots. Hawke’s hero is given a confused and morally unstable brother; Neill and Lucas create a rather unenviable father/daughter dynamic and well......Dafoe has his own bloodsucking past to deal with. These may sound hackneyed on paper but in practise they’re shockingly sturdy and beef up the film and characters in a practical fashion. Certainly additions like this make the occasionally shoddy CGI effects easy enough to overlook, yet whilst the digitals stumble the practical make-up is more than ample.

Fans of horror and science fiction should be able to get a monumental kick out of “Daybreakers” and the creativity and energy it brings to the cinematic game. For a vampire flick to be tolerable in the current climate it has to pack a good degree of thought and originality, “30 Days of Night” achieved it and so did “Let the Right One In” so it’s nice to slam “Daybreakers” into that camp rather than dismissing it into one populated by another neck nibbler named Edward. The action is formulaic but not in an unpleasant fashion and the story and various subtle additives combined with the Spierig’s obvious passion mutates the enterprise into a raucous thrill ride. “Daybreakers” is a nice surprise to receive so early in the year (January tends to be a dumping ground for dross) and hopefully represents a good omen for the next 12 months of popcorn entertainment.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010