Amid the number of vampire films emerging from the recent craze, it has been hard to find a true vampire story. While vampire movies released lately do pertain to blood-sucking creatures, they lean toward one of two ends of the vampire myth spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum are the Anne Rice and Twilight vampires, where sappy romance rules and horror is gone. On the other are the monstrous, dehumanizing vampires of 30 Days of Night and Blade, where mysticism and romance is cast aside for gore, deadly viruses and more gore.
That is not to say these tales don’t provide good stories but, compared with the more traditionally-haunting, suspenseful vampire stories — like Carmilla and Dracula — they are inferior.
This brings us to Daybreakers.
Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, Daybreakers falls on the science-fiction horror end of the aforementioned vampire-myth spectrum. Set in modern-day society, the movie supposes that vampirism spread across the world, leaving humans as a rapidly dwindling minority.
Ten years later, however, blood supplies begin dwindling and vampires face extinction as they start mutating into Nosferatu-like subsiders.
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is the head researcher looking for a blood substitute for Bromley-Marks, a megacorporation specializing in the blood industry and chaired by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill).
Dissatisfied with the condition of society and sympathizing with the humans, Dalton looks for a way to help the hunted minority, which he soon finds in the miraculously cured ex-vampire Elvis (Willem Dafoe).
Despite its science fiction premise, Daybreakers is not a standard vampire horror film. With its apocalyptic overtones and fatalistic view on society, it is reminiscent of 2006’s Children of Men — except with vampires. The movie excels at creating a futuristic 2019: cars are modified for “daytime driving” with UV filters and cameras to see the road, while coffee shops offer blood-infused lattes to the masses (“20 percent real human blood,” the signs read).
Daybreakers also looks at the motives people had for becoming vampires — namely immortality — and shows the downsides to that decision with teenage vampires commiting suicide by sunlight rather than going on trapped in a body that doesn’t age.
The most interesting concept in the film is the treatment of blood as a natural resource. In many ways, Daybreakers is an allegory for the haste and overuse humans have shown with our own natural resources. To the filmmaker’s credit, however, the metaphor is handled subtly and is very effective.
News reports of blood starvation in the third world and increased hording of blood haunt the film, adding to the sense of doom. The brief glimpses of the sub-siders are particularly chilling.
Weta Workshop, the team behind the visual effects in The Lord of the Rings and District 9, lent the somewhat low-budget film — it was made for $21 million, $9 million less than District 9 — impressive designs and prosthetics. The CGI used in the film, however, is disappointing, with many of the vampire deaths spoiled by ineffective graphics.
The Spierig brothers’ directing is solid for most of the film and even excellent in the world-building segments. But when it comes to drama and action scenes, the film falls apart. Most of the fights — with overdone and somewhat crude effects — are laughable at best.
Similarly, the scene showcasing Elvis’ recovery comes across as slapstick, rather than dramatic. An early scene involving a test on Dalton’s blood substitute should have been chilling and effective, but was instead hilarious, with over-the-top blood spatters and comedic pauses. All that was missing was a laugh track.
Meanwhile, the acting is hit or miss. Hawke presents a subdued performance, giving Dalton a disconnected, pitiable air, and making him the highlight of the cast. Neill’s refined, patrician approach to Bromley’s character thankfully avoids overacting and keeps the character from becoming cliché.
Not so lucky is Dafoe, whose character is given awful lines. Compared to Dafoe’s work in the excellent vampire film Shadow of the Vampire, it seems he decided to forgo seriousness and instead gave his character a wonderfully stereotypical redneck accent and swagger.
Still, the actors, script and directors managed to keep the film interesting, at least until the ending. For all the wonderful buildup the first 80 minutes provided, the climax of Daybreakers is disappointing and, once again, comically violent.
It’s a shame, really. The most engaging concepts in the film — the intriguing futuristic society and the consequences of a cure for vampirism — get tossed out the window for a gory finale.
For fans of the grittier, science-based vampire genre, Daybreakers presents a unique and creative look at what would happen in the aftermath of a vampire outbreak and displays thoughtful consequences to trivial aspects of the myth. The poor handling of the dramatic action scenes in the film, however, effectively kills any of the tension it builds up, and the Spierig brothers seemed to throw out their complex world for cliché action in the end.