Thanks to the massive success of Twilight, vampires have become a cultural phenomenon. It seems like every entertainment medium wants in on it, from film to television (True Blood, Vampire Diaries), and it is slowly over-saturating the market. Daybreakers, the new film by the Spierig Brothers, is the latest vampire film to hit theaters, but that story is a little different. The filming was completed in 2007, way before vampires hit it big, and its release three years later has made it look like the latest in an attempt to cash in on the phenomenon. This is not the case, however; while the other films and TV shows are essentially love stories, Daybreakers does something completely different, creating a world that has never been explored before, and does this successfully, at least for the most part.
Daybreakers takes place in the year 2019 (Blade Runner alert!), ten years after a single bat created an outbreak in humans that turned them into vampires. This disease has taken over 95% of the population, leaving legitimate humanity on the brink of extinction. The new vampire population is also having problems of its own: with fewer and fewer humans being found, the blood supply is running out. People who cannot get a constant supply are mutating into mindless half-bat beings known as “sub-siders.”
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a scientist who is trying to find a blood substitute that would sustain the population and keep this from happening. Although a vampire, he does not feed on human blood, instead relying on animal blood, and sympathizes with the 5% of humans that still exist. Edward’s boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) runs the largest blood supply group in the world, harvesting what is left of humanity within its walls. One day, Edward saves a group of humans from being caught, and he is taken in to help them find not a substitute, but a cure.
The group is headed by a man known as Elvis (Willem Dafoe), who was once a vampire but an accident has caused him to become human once again. Edward is tasked with finding out how this is and to replicate it. Some people do not want to turn back, however, and the group is hunted down while Edward attempts to find the cure.
As you can probably tell, Daybreakers takes a different approach to the genre, creating a dystopian scenario. It takes elements of The Matrix (people being harvested) and other films, but manages to create something that feels original and feels really legitimate. You can buy this world as being real, and that takes no small feat to accomplish (the only other film in recent memory that was able to do this was District 9). The creativity and originality presented are excellent and made me love this movie far more than I thought I would.
I also enjoyed all the little things they did to give the movie a more realistic touch, namely what the vampires did in daylight. Now that no one can go outside without dying, they go underground in sub-walks, where life can still go on without the threat of the sun. Some cars can even be modified to be UV-free, blocking out the windows and using cameras in order to see while driving. Coffee shops add a little blood into their product to appease the hunger and still keep a piece of humanity going. All these little touches add to the experience and add to the realistic world the Spierig Brothers have created.
I also need to say something about the score, which was done by Christopher Gordon. It's very haunting and bleak, which keeps the film's tone intact despite certain elements where it could veer off into camp. Even if you don't see the film, I suggest you listen to the score, especially if you're a depressive who likes to wallow in self-pity.
The plot itself is filled with redemption arcs, horror elements, and suspense, but it all works together to create an enjoyable movie. While I really liked it, I feel like it also doesn't live up to its potential. Daybreakers could have been the District 9 of vampire films, but stumbles in some spots which keeps it from being that kind of future classic. The acting itself is suspect, primarily in the case of Willem Dafoe. His portrayal as former vampire Elvis comes off very campy in some parts and sticks out in a film that takes itself very seriously. Thankfully, Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill both nail it and keep the film from descending into something far worse than it could have been. The effects are also a little suspect. It's a low budget film, true, but when the vampires burn in the sun it looks like it was created in a high school classroom. The gore is also very excessive, to the point of B-movie excess. I do get that vampires drinking blood and killing people is violent, but there is a balance between too much blood and the right amount.
And while Daybreakers does feel on the whole very realistic, I can't help but question some of the things going on. If they are running out of their blood supply and are harvesting humans, why didn’t they just harvest babies? You’d figure it could be done in a test tube and if vampires need blood so badly, scientists like Edward would be working on how to pump them out super quick to feed on. Okay, so maybe feeding on babies is a little weird, but when you need blood, you should try to get it from anywhere.
Outside of my minor quibbles, Daybreakers is on the whole an enjoyable film, an action-packed science fiction/horror film that actually makes vampirism into something realistic and legitimate. This is worth a trip to the theater for horror buffs, but if you are a part of the Twilight fandom, I would probably avoid this. In this world, vampires don’t sparkle… they die.