Film review by: Witney Seibold
Michael and Peter Spierig’s “Daybreakers” offers up what is probably the most surreal metaphor you’ll ever see for sustainable living: Ten years after the vampire apocalypse, the population is running out of human blood. Yup, world food shortages and dwindling natural resources seems to be represented by the lack of human blood for a worldwide vampire population. I suppose, if thought about logically, if vampires were to reach a certain number, and humans were constantly being either killed or transformed, a lack of blood would happen pretty quickly.
The opening shots of “Daybreakers” are virtuosic in their establishment of the world as it will be in 2019. We are all vampires. We have constructed subterranean sidewalks, and sunshaded cars to get around. We farm and harvest comatose humans for blood. We add blood to coffee, and have invented new human-blood-based cuisine. Things like fashion and advertising have continued unabated, and “Daybreakers” even offers up a corporate greed metaphor, but more on that in a second.
A few other rules: If a vampire goes too long without human blood, they begin to physically transform into bestial bat monsters with animal intelligence and super strength.
Our story focuses on Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a reluctant vampire who works in a lab to create a suitable human blood substitute. He didn’t want to become a vampire, and resents that vampires treat humans so poorly. Edward’s brother (Michael Dorman) is a soldier who captures wild humans for use in the farms. Edward’s boss is the serpentine Mr. Bromley (a very good Sam Neill) who admires Edward’s smarts, but is clearly more interested in the profit motive. “It’s not about a cure. It’s about repeat business.”
(subliminal: American Healthcare)
Edward is contacted by a human underground resistance for aid in finding an outright cure for vampirism. Evidently the honky-tonk wacko Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe, how perfect) has managed to cure himself somehow, and needs a more scientific perspective. Edward covertly agrees, and is soon working to betray his own kind, and trying to keep one step ahead of his brother, hellbent on finding those humans. Meanwhile, more and more vampires and becoming bat-monsters.
The gore in this film is squishy and plentiful. Many people and vampires get eaten and torn apart in splattery, messy displays. The sci-fi and monster concepts are well-thought out, and make for an entertaining monster mash. Seeing as the Spierig’s previous film, “Undead,” was a mash-up of zombies and space-aliens, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
As the film progresses, though, and the actual mechanics of the vampirism become more and more complicated, the film becomes dumber and dumber. Pretty soon, there are all kinds of weird-ass videogame conceits that were difficult to jibe with. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that sunlight has something to do with curing vampires.
The film also set itself up for a sequel, which may be presumptuous on the filmmakers’ parts.
The first third of “Daybreakers” is wacky, enjoyable, messy B-movie fun. The rest is a little too portentous and broody and serious. If you’re into vampires, though (and you know who you are), then you may like it. Overall, it’s refreshing to see vampires as monsters again, after that recent spate of the romantic variety.