Movie Review: Daybreakers (2010)

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Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke and Claudia Karvan in Daybreakers
Photo: Lionsgate

Daybreakers is an interesting entry into the vampire genre, basically throwing up its hands in the face of the recent rash of vampire films and TV shows and saying, “Fine. Vampires… you win. You can have the world, but good luck figuring out how to survive after you kill all the humans and run out of blood.”

It’s 2019, vampires are in control of everything, and the remaining humans not being farmed for their blood are on the run and in hiding. Using corporate greed vs. the betterment of society as its catalyst Daybreakers offers some interesting concepts, but is only satisfying on the most basic of levels. Primarily due to the fact its concept doesn’t far enough and all the surprises are pretty much telegraphed throughout the picture.

The story follows Ethan Hawke, playing a vampire blood doctor working for the world’s largest blood supplier, and as the amount of human blood remaining is on the decline he and his team have been charged with developing a synthetic blood to ensure the vampires’ survival. (“True Blood” anyone?) As it turns out, a lack of regular blood causes normal vampires to turn into gruesomely deformed beasties. As things become dire, Hawke joins forces with a group of humans who claim to have a cure for the vampire virus, which means instead of causing the extinction of the human race and relying on synthetic blood, vampirism can be eliminated altogether.

I’m a fan of Hawke and I think he is always watchable, whether it’s in one of my personal all-time favorites Before Sunset, the Oscar-winning Training Day or even the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which itself is similar to the B-movie fare we have here with Daybreakers. He’s a cool cat and he plays his characters well, rarely stepping into that region of over-acting.

Daybreakers also gets a great performance out of Sam Neill playing corporate head-honcho Charles Bromley, an upper crust-vampire you may find turning the pages of “Cigar Aficionado” and he fills the shoes perfectly. However, the best casting may have been the decision to bring in Willem Dafoe and not cast him as a vampire. I hear vampire movie and Willem Dafoe and I automatically think he’ll be the big dog leading some pack of vampires to destroy any and all humans in his way. No sir. Instead he plays a member of the human resistance who goes by the nickname Elvis. It’s a pleasure watching the old dog work.

The film was written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (credited as The Spierig Brothers) who last directed Undead in 2005, a film that delved into similar territory focusing on an Australian village overcome by zombies as a result of a freak meteor shower. Considering that film enjoyed distribution in a whopping 13 theaters I would say things are looking up for the brothers, but I can’t say they their overall direction here necessarily wowed me.

The human farming facilities were better thought out than the makeshift design of those in Blade: Trinity and the vehicle mods used to make a car suitable for a vampire to drive in the daylight were actually quite cool. But some choppy editing and scenes that just didn’t need to be included, or at the very least could have been cut down, made what is otherwise a sleek futuristic vampire tale a little bumpy along the way. However, while some have been complaining about the third act resolution to the story, I actually thought it was rather inventive even if it wasn’t handled with the utmost dexterity. It certainly made for the most gruesome scenes in the film, but the gore at least served a purpose, which is hard to say for most horror films hellbent on blood-letting and decapitation.

Comparisons to Avatar have already been made and I think this film owes a debt to the Terminator franchise and the previously mentioned Blade: Trinity as well as HBO’s “True Blood” or at least the novels the show is based on. It’s also interesting how often the depletion of resources in films can almost always be looked upon as a commentary on our current state of affairs involving oil. Whether intentional or not, it’s fascinating how a vampire film can satiate our need to see pools of blood all while making a legitimate social commentary.

As with most films, Daybreakers will certainly be more enjoyable on the big screen, but I imagine you will get just as much out of the story on DVD or Blu-ray while missing out on a few of the effects, mostly having to do with the sound as tranquilizer darts zip passed your ears and one specific scene, meant to feed your appetite for gore, drenches everyone involved as gobs of goo thunder against the viewing glass. There’s some fun to be had and it feels unique, but Daybreakers lacks an overall “wow” factor making it hard to suggest it as a necessary theatrical viewing.

GRADE: C+