In this Australian-made vampire sci-fi flick—directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, whose only other claim to fame was a 2003 zombie “horror-comedy” film called The Undead—Ethan Hawke plays a haematologist who must find a way to replenish the rapidly-depleting stocks of human blood with a synthesised alternative. (Perhaps he should’ve just asked Sookie Stackhouse for some True Blood?)
A plague of some description has turned 95% of the world’s population into fanged creatures who combust upon meeting daylight, and, in their hunger for blood, have been driven underground to eke out bat-like existences. Most of the blood supply comes through a commercial artery: a pharmaceutical company headed by one of the least evil-looking bad guys ever, Sam Neill. Willem Dafoe, one of a duo of ‘normies’ Hawke encounters, is dealt a tough hand by the writers: not only does he spout some of the film’s worst, most clichéd lines, but he is gaunt and sports both an implausible-looking ginger goatee and a bad Southern accent that fades in and out. (Oh, and his character’s called “Elvis,” although that’s not explained beyond his quoting a line from one of the quiffed-one’s signature songs.)
Dafoe’s offsider is a woman named Audrey (Claudia Karvan, TV’s The Secret Life of Us) and, this being an Australian film, Isabel Lucas from Home & Away shows up as Sam Neill’s daughter. (Jay Laga’aia, in the worst performance of his cameo-studded career, briefly appears as a US Senator.) The film blends the mood and some of the visual and story elements of Gattaca, Blade Runner and all those wonderfully awful late-’80s Paul Verhoeven movies and John Carpenter flicks like Total Recall and Escape from L.A.—films which, if a recent news article about a French game show called Jeu de la mort, in which the contestants are administered electric shocks, is anything to go by, appear creepily ever-prescient by the day. (Those aren’t bad films per se—they’re actually brilliant in their terribleness—but trying to incorporate bits of them in a modern film was never really going to work.)
Watching the parade of fiery demon-like vamps and seemingly endless gory spectacle is about as enjoyable as sitting through one of the Saw movies—and ultimately it is only Hawke and Karvan’s performances that make the film watchable. Opens April 15th.