Monday, October 15, 2007

The Breed – review

DVD

Director: Michael Oblowitz

Release Date: 2001

Contains spoilers

The Breed is an odd little film. In many respects a triumph of style over substance it trips itself up as there was much substance to tap into and the style is its own worst enemy.

The film declares that it is set in the near future and it is here that it falls down in the first instance as there is little about this which is futuristic, indeed it is better to state that it is a parallel world where things are very different from our world. This is seen in the first scene with two cops prowling the streets in, what is clearly, an older model car. The cops are Steven Grant (Bokeem Woodbine) and his partner Phil (Reed Diamond). They are looking for a white van used in a kidnapping.

victimThey spot the van in plain sight and, after a wee bit of police brutality on a vagrant witness, enter the building. As they move through the run down corridors they hear maniacal laughter and then find their victim, strung up and bleeding into a bucket. Clearly concerned they look into a room and see a trench coated and hat wearing figure who is the source of the laughter.

Phil gets itWhen he doesn’t surrender they open fire and drop the man. Grant checks out the body and is thrown to the wall for his troubles. Phil is then bitten and killed, following which Grant is thrown through a window and the man escapes by crawling up the wall. Clearly they are dealing with a vampire, but surely such creatures do not exist?

NSA HQAs a result of his report Grant is summoned to the NSA headquarters and it is here where are style over substance takes a strange turn. Looking at the screenshot you’d be forgiven for thinking we were in some kind of fascist state or Orwellian nightmare. As Grant makes his way in, and we get tannoy announcements straight out of 1984, that picture is complete. However this is window dressing, no mention is made of how society came to be like this and it is the lack of substance over the style that lets the film down.

The TV looks 1950 ishGrant is shown a video of a vampire and told that there are some 4000 of them. Look at the screen, it is almost as though it was from the 1950s, enhancing the juxtaposition of modern and old fashioned with no clear indication of anything futuristic. He is also told that they have made themselves known to the NSA, pending going public, and the one that killed Phil is a rogue. He is then teemed up with Aaron Gray (Adrian Paul), a vampire cop.

Bai Ling as Lucy WestenraIt is in this section that we start seeing that the writers decided to throw in as many vampiric names as they could without actually relating them to their original characters/historical figures. Here we meet Seward (Lo Ming) and Bathory (Dianna Camacho). Later we meet Lucy Westenra (Ling Bai) and Dr Orlock (István Göz). The use of these names is actually a little annoying.

Adrian Paul as Aaron GrayThings take a stranger turn, style wise, when Grant is taken to the vampire town called Serenity. The locals look like Jewish refugees and it is clear that the filmmakers were making a connection between the plight of the vampires and the plight of the Jews during the holocaust, even having Gray accuse Grant of being racist. This is all well and good but then, in a very complete back history of Gray, we discover that he was a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazi’s only to have his family die in the winter snows, be turned and get revenge. It feels rammed down the throat.

Anyway, there is a twisty plot around smuggling vampires away, final solutions with biological weapons and a love story between Grant and the vampire Lucy… but I don’t want to give the noir aspects away as, as well as being a vampire movie, this is a detective noir - unfortunately we work out who the bad guy is long before the characters.

Is he dead?Vampire wise things are very confused at times. The vampires are said to be a genetic off-shot of humanity but then it is clearly shown that vampirism is an infection, to which 20% of the population are immune. Thus vampirism can be passed on but it necessitates a transfer of blood. The vampires are sensitive to sunlight, but only to the point of needing shades.

funky eye thangThey do get a funky eye thing going on, they are allergic to silver but can shrug off standard wounds with ease. They are stronger and more agile than humans and essentially immortal. Their need for blood has gone after the vampire leaders developed a synthetic substitute (hence going public).

Grant and GrayThe action does let this down, it was clear that they had little budget but repeated shots of people jumping through the air does not a great action sequence make. The acting seems over the top at times, which can work, and extremely flat at others as Paul and Woodbine aimed for the noir effect. I have to ask what the heck was going on with Adrian Paul’s pencil moustache… hmm… Star of the film for me was Bai Ling who had an ethereal, haunting quality.

There are a few unanswered plot points but more than anything I just wish that they had explained the world they were in a little better, it is nice window dressing but essentially that is all it is. What the film doesn't do is go deep enough into the plot and counter plot aspects, relying instead on the window dressing. However, it is not a bad little romp and there are many worse films out there, but it does have a tendency to get lost within itself. 4 out of 10 if you can live with the worst excesses.

The imdb page is here.

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