Daybreakers (2009, dir. The Spierig Brothers)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe
Vampires are on the brain of many a Hollywood screenwriter these days. From the Twilight franchise to CW teen drama The Vampire Diaries, the sanguine are a hot commodity. The vampire is one of those monsters that seems to have a couple different interpretations. You have the elegant sex object popularized by Dracula and the Anne Rice novels, you have the eerily inhuman humanoid seen in the classic Nosferatu, and then occasional we see a completely bestial form. What’s interesting about Daybreakers is that it touches on each of these forms; and while the film is high concept, does it live up to the ideas it presents?
In a world where humans were overtaken by vampirism about a decade earlier, humans are becoming extinct and without a steady blood supply, the vampires are experiencing a secondary mutation. The blood deprived vampires end up feeding on each other, poisoning their systems and becoming more animal than human. Edward Dalton (Hawke) is a corporate hematologist seeking to synthesize a blood substitute and tests are less than successful. He’s overseen by his intimidating boss (Neill) and army grunt brother. Eventually, Dalton crosses paths with the human resistance movement and their leader, Elvis (Dafoe). Elvis was once a vampire but through a random circumstance he reverted back to human. Dalton sets out to figure out why and see if he can cure humanity once and for all.
The film is chock full of amazing ideas. Life is lived at night or in a series of interconnected tunnels beneath the city where there are copious little cafes or newspaper stands. Life is fairly similar to our own, except for the whole needing to feed on blood part. It was also refreshing that there would be select vampires who retained empathy that outweighed their biological needs to feed. There’s even a senator featured on a news program whose big issue is humanity rights and wants to remove humans from being used a cattle. The cinematography is also very clean and sharp. The directors definitely know how to set up a stylistic shot and their previous special effects works comes through.
On the flip side, the actual story of the film is complete and total mess. The transformation of Dafoe’s character never gets a comprehensible explanation and seems to be boiled down to wrapping yourself in a wet blanket and being exposed to sunlight, literally. This is the elusive cure for vampirism. The twists and turns the plots takes are either incredibly forced with no real reason behind them or simply an excuse to show people being torn limb from limb. Its apparent early on that the actors in this film are better than the material they are working with, and they most definitely don’t raise it beyond its mediocrity.